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The Visitor [T. McCarthy, 2008]

The Visitor is a 2008 American drama film written and directed by Thomas McCarthy and produced by Michael London and Mary Jane Skalski. Executive producers were Jeff Skoll and Omar Amanat. The screenplay focuses on a lonely man in late middle age whose life changes when he is caught up in the plight of illegal immigrants. For The Visitor, McCarthy won the 2008 Independent Spirit Award for Best Director, while Richard Jenkins was nominated for Best Actor in the 2008 Academy Awards.

 •  Plot 

Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) is a widowed Connecticut College economics professor who lives a fairly solitary existence. He fills his days by sometimes taking piano lessons in an effort to emulate his late wife, a classical concert pianist, and infrequently works on a new book. When he is asked to present a paper at an academic conference at New York University, he is not enthusiastic to make the trip, given he is only the nominal co-author and has never even read the complete work. Charles (Michael Cumpsty), his department head, insists and Walter is forced to attend.

When he arrives at the apartment he maintains in Manhattan, he is startled to discover a young unmarried couple living there, having rented it from a swindler who claimed it was his. They are Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), aPalestinian-Syrian djembe player, and Zainab (Danai Gurira), a Senegalese designer of ethnic jewelry. He later discovers both are illegal immigrants. Although they have no place to go, they hastily pack and leave, but Walter decides to let them stay. Over the next few days, a friendship slowly develops. Tarek teaches Walter to play the drum, and the two men join a group of others at a regular drum circle in Central Park.

On the way home, Tarek is mistakenly charged with subway turnstile jumping, arrested for “failing” to pay his fare (although he actually had), and taken to a detention center for illegal immigrants in Queens. In order to prevent Tarek’s deportation from the United States, Walter hires an immigration lawyer. Feeling uncomfortable about remaining in the apartment with Walter, Zainab moves out to live with relatives in The Bronx.

Tarek’s mother, Mouna (Hiam Abbass), unexpectedly arrives from her home in Michigan when she is unable to contact her son. Also in the States illegally, she accepts Walter’s offer to stay in the apartment, and the two develop a friendship. Walter confesses his life is unfullfilling; he dislikes the single course he has taught for twenty years, and the book he allegedly is writing is nowhere near completion. It is revealed that Mouna’s journalist husband died following a lengthy politically motivated imprisonment in Syria, and she is concerned about her son’s future prospects if he is deported.

◊  A trailer  ↓

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