Rotterdam film festival: Catherine Keener exudes dark anxiety in Mark Jackson’s tale of the European immigrant experience
Did Catherine Keener not sleep for weeks before shooting her role as Lee, the traumatised photographer on the run from personal tragedy in this drama by Mark Jackson? Because boy, does she look exhausted. Holed up in a Sicilian hotel, bruised and twitchy and ignoring the ringing phone, Lee is given a remarkably black and nervy energy by Keener, her whole body drooping as if more than usually susceptible to the inexorable pull of gravity.
Gradually, we learn that something went wrong in Libya, and that Lee was one of the luckier ones – a bracing truth with which she is confronted by fellow warzone veteran and possibly ex-lover Albert (a bafflingly underused Ben Kingsley). But did she even do any good? This most war-photographer-specific of dilemmas is what motivates her to snap out of her funk to help young Hafsia (Hafsia Herzi), a pregnant refugee abandoned by a Tunisian trafficker who had promised to convey her to France.
Jackson and co-writer Kristin Gore, daughter of Al, are concerned to show us the dark side of the European immigrant experience. “Why do you think you know people you don’t?” Hafsia asks Lee, an accusation you might level at the film itself, notwithstanding some cursory scenes of Keener hanging around with Arab men and black African prostitutes, all of whom remain unnamed. The ending more or less absolves the film of any real “sad white lady saves poor black girl, learns to live again” culpability, but Jackson is wise to keep Keener’s pushy, desperate Lee in centre focus.