Publicity Stills of "Le Grand Voyage"
(Courtesy from Festive Films)

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2004, Luigi De Laurentiis Award
Opening Film of Jakarta International Film Festival 2005

In French & Arabic with English Subtitles
Road movie
Director: Ismaël Ferroukhi
Starring: Nicolas Cazale, Mohamed Majd
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films & Festive Films
Rating: PG
Official Website: http://www.festivefilms.com/legrandvoyage

Opening Day: 12 January 2006


A few weeks before his college entrance exams, Reda, a young man who lives in the south of France, finds himself forced to drive his father to Mecca. From the start, the journey looks to be difficult. Reda and his father have nothing in common. Talk is reduced to the strict minimum. Reda wants to experience this trip in his own way. His father demands respect for himself and the meaning of this pilgrimage. As they drive through different countries and meet various people, Reda and his father observe each other warily. How can they create a relationship when communication is impossible? From the south of France, through Italy, Serbia, Turkey, Syria, Jordan to Saudi Arabia, their road is 3,000 miles long.

Movie Review:

The study of proxemics (various aspects of spatial distances between individuals) has long been overlooked by individuals globally, leading to numerous faux pas at social occasions, breakdowns in communications and failure to build rapport. It’s regrettable that spatial consideration is not a primary thematic concern for most books and films, and it’s always a refreshing break when a nice film like “Le Grand Voyage” chooses to address this phenomenon. Considering that the field of proxemics is all-encompassing in terms of relationships, director Ismael Ferroukhi has made a strategic decision to narrow the focus down to a single relationship that often proves to be the Achilles’ heel of family social dynamics: that of a father and son.

With the setting of a Muslim family residing in France, this film has paved a powerful scenario for strong, progressive development in the story. Cultural identity and cross-cultural integration stays strong in this film. The former becomes prominent when the family strives to maintain their religious practices in the midst of a foreign land. Cross-cultural integration is depicted through the fact that the family speaks French while practising Islam. The fact that the lead protagonist Reda (Nicolas Cazale) is also dating a foreigner also exemplifies this. The director has tactfully illustrated this tension by focusing on the conflict between the religiously-devoted father and the somewhat agnostic son.

This film is about a father Mohamed Majd who wishes to embark on a Haj to Mecca. However, as a man of faith, he decides to travel by car rather than by plane. Being someone who is unable to drive, he has requested for his son Reda to drive him there. Having exams to pass, a girlfriend whom he cannot get his mind off and a 3000-mile journey ride, Reda is full of reluctance to make the trip. Nevertheless, it’s his friction with his father that proves to be the primary resistance. Both father and son view each other indignantly with their differences in opinions. While the father sees the son as unreligious and rebellious, the son eyes his father with contempt, viewing him as a man who is obstinate and conventional.

The strength of this film lies in its intricate details, namely the interactions between the father and son. However, it’s the non-verbal communications that stands out in this film. From the scene where both of them got lost midway during the journey to the fright of the son when he discovered that his father has a fever, the film never lets down on its portrayal of kinship. It’s the family bonds that ultimately bind the family members together and throughout the journey, this idealism is continually being reinforced by the film. And as they got closer to Mecca, the bond grows stronger. And towards the end, the audience will get a glimpse of what fatherhood is all about.

This theme of the film bears a close resemblance to “The Pilgrimage”, a novel by acclaimed author Paul Coelho, whereby the main protagonist (the author himself) makes a pilgrimage. Along the same vein as the film, the author faces his trials and tribulations, thus making the entire journey meaningful. One similarity will be the encounter with a villain. Both the film and the novel delve into the importance of looking beyond someone’s intent. While on the surface the intent may be genuine, deceit and fraud may be seething beneath. The danger of being blinded by a façade has always been prevalent in modern societies and this film serves as a medium that reinforces this. It’s meaningful social messages such as this that makes this film such a delight to watch.

However, this film falls short in several areas though. For starters, while the journey requires the father and son to travel from Europe to the Middle East, almost all the scenes are shot in the Middle East sans the scenes in Europe. While some audiences may find this to be relevant to the film’s religious themes, others may find themselves to be shortchanged in terms of the logical, linear narratives in the story. Also, the bonding of the father-son relationship, while progressive, is not entirely convincing. The raw emotion is only depicted as the film nears the end. This causes the film to lose much of its emotional impact, with some audiences finding the transformation in emotion to be a tad too late.

Nevertheless, this film really scores in getting a message across to the audience: that regardless of conflicts in beliefs, age or interest, emotional bonding is always possible if frequent contacts can be made and an awareness of proxemics be made known. Be it circumstantial or by choice.

Movie Rating:

Review by Patrick Tay

(“Le Grand Voyage”, while filled with religious overtones, is in actuality a simple albeit beautiful tale of emotional bonding between father and son.)


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