"A tribute to the 97% of Muslims we never hear about in the Western world" is how French writer/director Ismael Ferroukhi describes his pleasingly understated road movie. Le Grand Voyage's premise involves a devout elderly patriarch (Mohamed Majd) forcing his reluctant teenage son Reda (Nicolas Cazalé) to drive them from their home in France to Saudia Arabia on a once-in-a-lifetime religious pilgrimage. No surprises that these mismatched protagonists learn from one another, yet this remains an engaging, compassionate film.
The secular Reda and his traditionalist Dad do encounter other people during their arduous trip through Europe and the Middle East: there's the ghostly old woman they pick up in the Bosnian countryside, and the garrulous Mustapha (Jacky Nercessian), who guides them around Istanbul. Ferroukhi's focus however remains firmly on the relationship between his two barely-communicating principal characters, showing us the cultural, linguistic and generational divides that separate these family members. "Doesn't your religion practice forgiveness?" despairs Reda after provoking further paternal disapproval.
"THE FEEL OF A CONTEMPORARY FABLE"
Wisely the director doesn't provide us with detailed information about the duo's past experiences, giving Le Grand Voyage the feel of a contemporary fable, whilst the air of mystery is further heightened by the elliptical editing style. And not only does this well-acted film successfully challenge cultural preconceptions of Islamic belief, but in the climactic scenes amidst the collective fervour of Mecca, it achieves an unexpected emotional intensity.
In French and Arabic with English subtitles.