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  • Writer's pictureJack Salvadori

Cannes #77 - "Grand Tour" Review

It’s the journey, not the destination.


Few films aim to lift the audience to a different dimension. Even fewer actually succeed in such a daring quest; Miguel Gomes’ extraordinary new film, Grand Tour, manifests this transcendental power that could only be described as pure cinema, questioning the very essence of reality and fiction and eventually finding the answer to organically embrace both.


Framed by the crumbling colonial empire at its sunset, the film opens in 1918 with British civil servant Edward awaiting his fiancée Molly at Mandalay station, in Burma, joining him in the Far East after many years apart. But just before she is about to disembark from her transatlantic, he gets cold feet and runs away. And so the titular "Grand Tour" begins, with Edward hopping on an odyssey across many iconic cities all over South East Asia- and Molly relentlessly nipping at his heels in each stop. The chase, marked by minimal telegrams and narrated in the native languages of the characters’ ever-changing locations, soon becomes playfully complicit, as Molly refuses to give up her lover despite Edward’s punctual desertions. An odd screwball comedy, to an extent, in which the protagonists never share a scene together. But after all, “this is a Portuguese film”, reminds us Gomes, sardonically.

 

Yet, the greatness of this film relies in its form. The story experimentally unfolds switching classically staged scenes with documentary inserts from modern times, shot by Gomes as he was writing the screenplay while retracing the "Grand Tour" himself. The period, fictional scenes are old-fashionably black&white and take place inside handcrafted studio sets, while the contemporary footage is voyeuristically captured in the streets, observing the unexpected grace in the real world, mostly showing faraway and forgotten storytelling ways, precursors of cinema, such as folkloristic dances, shadows and puppets shows.

These inserts serve as a brilliant device to merge fiction with reality, the spectacle of the world and the intimacy of vision, proving that the world of cinema and the real world are complimentary of each other, and allowing Edward to fade away in the environment, as he longs to hide and disappear.

The contemporary cuts are drastically reduced as we follow Molly’s travels, since, opposite to her lover, she has a more proactive and vital approach, she wants to live and therefore is more physically present.

 

If you don’t sigh at the sound of Singapore slings, Tibetan temples and Saigon’s monkeys, you might be immune to this film’s charm. The fascination relies in its exhilarating depiction of exotic fetishism, the romantic, illusory westernised gaze upon South-Asian iconography.

Casablanca was shot in a backlot in Los Angeles, and you wouldn’t find anything like "Rick’s Café Americain" in its real namesake. And yet, there’s something that lures any cinephile to that dreamy fictitious place instead, a place that can only exist in light form, on a silver screen.

The legendary East in Grand Tour belongs to the same cinematic map, cruising on a fabricated nostalgia whose roots are part of our collective imagery but that never actually belonged to us.

 

According to the Portuguese filmmaker, the ticket to embark on this journey across space and time is belief. A faith that relies in the images, and that the viewers must have in order to appreciate the magic on screen. There is too much effort to show reality on film, and it’s good to believe in the unbelievable again.


4/5


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