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Monday, 12 September 2011 00:00

"The Visitor" Is a Welcome Guest

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Written by Diane Carson
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Webster University's Year of International Human Rights Film Series continues on Thursdays through the month of September with writer/director Thomas McCarthy's The Visitor. It's a simple story of transformation, kindness, and the triumph of human compassion. Arriving in New York City for a conference, Professor Walter Vale surprisingly finds two illegal immigrants living in his apartment.

Shocked, nevertheless Walter responds empathetically to Syrian Tarek's and Senegalese Zainab's predicament. Though this may sound ridiculous and forced, the marvelous performances of Richard Jenkins as Walter, Haaz Sleiman as Tarek, and Danal Gurira as Zainab bring real, believable human beings to vivid life. In fact, Richard Jenkins received a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his superb portrayal of Walter, a widower, a bit adrift, an everyman instead of a Hollywood star. In a Q&A at Webster University last December 1st, Jenkins said that among the most valuable lesson in his years of acting was to stop trying. "Forget about it and it comes to you," he said. And he models the brilliance of that kind of acting.

Walter is drawn to the energy of Tarek who plays drums on Manhattan's streets. Soon Tarek begins to teach Walter to play, and his sadness evolves slowly but surely into a quiet joy. Zainab continues to make jewelry and earn a very modest income as a street vendor. The fourth important character is Tarek's mother who travels to New York from Michigan after her son is arrested in a subway misunderstanding. I won't give away the central events that follow.

McCarthy likes the offbeat tale and unusual individuals, meaning real ones. His Station Agent pleased and surprised many of us. He enlivens the restrained verbal and nonverbal details with careful observation. He rewards those of us who love the subtle glance that communicates volumes, and all four principals here are up to the challenge. Moreover, he takes on the thorny subject of illegal immigration and puts a human face on it without resorting to sentimentality or sappy ploys. The Visitor respects our humanity and our intelligence. And the music is terrific as well.

It's showing at Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 15th only. For more information and the current schedule, you may call 314-968-7487 or go to the web at: Webster.edu/film series.

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