Le Grand Voyage
I love road movies. Movies where the protagonists set off on ridiculous journeys across unfathomable distances (The Great Race, Around the World in Eighty Days). They remind me of my childhood, when my parents would throw us kids in the car and drive for weeks on end. Luckily, we'd stop to take in all the sights along the way – unlike the characters in Le Grand Voyage, who barely stop for breath, as they travel by car from France to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
The journey is 3000 miles, and starts in Bouches-du-Rhône, France, where Reda lives with his Moroccan immigrant family. He's about to resit some exams, when his father announces he must drive him to Mecca. In love with a French girl and barely speaking Arabic, he's as far removed from his father's culture as he could be, and has no comprehension of the reason for his father's pilgrimage.
Or why he would want to drive rather than fly. However, he reluctantly sets off on a journey that takes them from France to Saudi Arabia, through Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, and Jordan.
En route, his father throws away his mobile phone and stops him from sightseeing in cities like Milan and Venice. 'You think we're tourists?' he asks him. This, he reveals, is a journey of devotion, taken by car rather than plane as a way of connecting with the journey.
Although some desert scenes were filmed in Morocco, most of the journey is authentic. There are some great street scenes in Belgrade, and the two men tour mosques in Istanbul. However, the most interesting location used is the final one: Mecca.
Apparently this was the first feature film permitted to be filmed during the Hajj, and it's an amazing sight: streets teeming with white-clad pilgrims. Of the experience, the film's director, Ismaël Ferroukhi, said, 'No one looked at the camera. People didn't even seem to see the crew. They're in another world.'
There's a real sense of this in the movie, of the crowds moving in pursuit of a greater goal, oblivious to the camera. It's a great opportunity to see Mecca, and feel what it's like to be there at the holiest of times. – Roshan McArthur