Two of the most powerful stories that I recently encountered were stories about immigrants and refugees. One was in a film and the other was a novel, but both left a strong impression on me.
In the film, The Visitor, a widowed, burnt-out professor in Connecticut, Walter Vale, (played to perfection by Richard Jenkins, who garnered a Best Actor nomination for the role) travels to New York for a conference and finds two strangers in his Manhattan apartment. Someone rented his apartment to this young couple, and when Walter enters at night he is accosted by the young man, Tarek, (Haaz Sleiman) who believes Walter is breaking in. When Walter lets Tarek and his girlfriend Zainab stay until they find a new place, their lives become intertwined in ways they never would have expected. Walter forges an unlikely friendship with Tarek, and his secret love of music flourishes. Walter learns that Tarek, who fled Syria with his mother, and Zainab, who fled Sengal, are both illegal and fear deportation. The more he gets to know Tarek, the more he cares about his fate, and it is this growing compassion that grounds the film.
Directed by Tom McCarthy, who also directed The Station Agent, another understated, charming independent film, The Visitor feels like a short story. It is riveting, artful, restrained—and over too quickly. Its strengths are the subtlety in its storytelling, and its clean focus on the characters and their relationships. There is no happy ending here, but Continue reading “The Visitor and Little Bee”