The aspect of traditionalism versus the idea of modernism tends to intersect in an avalanche of escape in human behavior whether psychological or firmly physical. “The Old Ways” takes that to an extreme but creates an interesting discussion on empowerment within the guise of a matriarchal story. It is a two- tiered approach which is more apparent in the thought afterwards. Brigitte Canales plays Cristina who left home after a traumatic experience involving her mother. Her self loathing paired with ambition make for an interesting intersection when she comes back with firm goal in mind (which is not completely explained in her mindset). The set up itself is a little flimsy in terms of the explanation of the presence and its intrusion. The structure plays against tropes by leaning into them in order to disarm the viewer. Julie Vera and Sal Lopez gives great understated but effective performances. These are two older character actors that most of us have seen in countless Hollywood movies but almost in passing. It is great to see this arch for them. The crux comes back to the young adult women at the center which includes Cristina’s cousin Miranda. The ode to “The Tempest” is not lost in regards to the idea of balance even when all is lost. Canales plays the part a bit nonchalantly but that seems to be an acting or directing choice that works well at times while it hits off the mark at others. What really takes control is some practical effects near the end which give that true “Serpent & The Rainbow” feel. Partially shot in Puerto Rico, one gets a small sense of the place but again the use of practical effects especially in terms of mood give the film a bit of thrust. However, it never quite reaches escape velocity. Though it tries earnestly, the suspension of disbelief within the film never quite kicks in.
The progression of naturalistic acting is a lost form but it depends on the story and the depth being told. In “Luxor” Andrea Riseborough plays Hana, who has returned from a war zone as an aid worker but is pursuing a sense of purpose amid a loss of identity before she must make her way back. The film follows her almost sleepwalking through the roads and ruins of Luxor and the solace within her hotel. She seems disconnected even from her former love Sultan whom she was with back in her 20s (which would seem 15 years before). The passage of existence for Hana seems to be muted and scattered. While this might be true of aid workers, what got them into the service in the first place is the texture of empathy. Hana, as played here seems broken but that might just be the after affect when she doesn’t have to put on a mask for anyone to see. The movie seems to use a lot of non actors and as a result the acting process seems very matter-of-fact and less smooth. While this works in some instances, many times the performance (one at a bar sticks out as well as one at a lunch) seems like a line reading just to move the story forward instead of letting the places and the people breath. This is true between Andrea as Hana as well as Karim Saleh as Sultan. When they simply sit at times, like in the bedroom after she sleeps curled up in a robe, those scenes have much more power. Now perhaps filming was restricted but the potential and especially the voices that she hears of the past aren’t used as fully as they should. With a title as in intoxicating as “Luxor” there isn’t as much balance. There are some drone shots that begets the majesty but those were probably what could be allowed but the movie could have been an exercise in stillness and might have had just as much power if not more. When Hana gets up an dances at the bar it feels organic but not as meaningful as it could have been. This is to take nothing away from Riseborough’s performance which is both subtle and telling. It is just the superstructure around her could have fed more into that idea.