Luxor, directed by Zeina Durra and starring Andrea Riseborough and Karim Saleh (amongst others), is one of the most beautiful explorations of the ancient world I’ve seen in a fictional film. Juxtaposed against world history is the love story of Hanna (Riseborough) and Sultan (Saleh), a former couple reuniting some twenty years later. It’s a quiet, beautiful, magical film, and I was fortunate enough to interview Zeina Durra and Karim Saleh.
Zeina Durra: I was having lunch with this brilliant curator in London, and she said, “Well, you know that Freud is really obsessed with archaeology. Because he thought that archaeology was very similar to psychoanalysis, how you take off the layers and then find things buried, I then went to Freud’s house in Hampstead, which isn’t too far from me. It was kind of amazing because he had all these ancient Egyptian statues, and he was just obsessed with them. Her (Hanna’s) mental breakdown with the archaeology and the psychoanalysis, it all made total sense then and there. I was like, “This is the film!”
Yeah, it’s not every day that you have a direct line to Freud in a movie, rather than Freudian references, so that’s kind of cool. In the film, there’s a line that Hanna says that’s connected to what you were saying, which is, “I just think the more unstable the world is, the more the supernatural comes to the forefront.” Would you like to expand on it?
When you are going through something, you’re more fragile, so you’re either more able to see things, or maybe your energy changes, and you’re more aware of it, or you become overwhelmed. I definitely, definitely believe that when people are in that kind of state of stress, they do feel and see more things if that makes sense.
“…you’re more fragile, so you’re either more able to see things, or maybe your energy changes…or you become overwhelmed.”
I have to ask about Andrea Riseborough because I love her. She’s such a chameleon in all of the films she’s in. She totally embodies the character, so I wanted to know what it was like to work with her.
Super easy, so much fun. Such a great actress. We laughed, we had really moving experiences on the set. We all think it was a life-changing experience. It was really wonderful. She had two days to prep, really. She showed up from Senegal, and she’d been in London for a few days, and then she came to Egypt. You know, we have two days, then we shoot.
You said it was a concise shoot time. What was it again?
Eighteen and a half days.
That’s crazy, and you also had your kids with you…
And my cinematographer had hers with her.
So you had all of the kids there to shoot the dream sequence. How was that to film?
It was hilarious. I said, “We’re missing something, we need the kids in white dresses.” and we called Zelmira (Gainza)’s husband and we called the lady that was looking after my children, (and said) “Guys can you put white dresses on the kids and bring them with baby Karim to the set.” So, it was about a 45-minute wait, and they all showed up, and then the funny thing was that the girls, although they were living on different continents, one of my daughters and one of her daughters had the same white dress on. It was pretty bizarre.