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Le Grand Voyage

Year of release: 2004

Directed by: Ismaël Ferroukhi


Ismaël Ferroukhi's first feature is a touching road movie about an elderly Moroccan father, resident in Southern France, who pressurises his irreligious 17-year-old son, Reda, to drive him on a 3,000 mile Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The title of the film alludes to the Grand Tour, traditionally undertaken by wealthy, upper-class European men between the 17th and 19th centuries. It was explicitly non-religious and was an educational rite of passage. The usual itinerary included cities such as Paris, Venice, Rome and ensured that the young men of means were exposed to Renaissance art and the cultural legacy of classical antiquity. In Le Grand Voyage, however, the father makes sure they bypass Milan and Venice, places Reda is very keen to visit since he would like to turn the pilgrimage into modern-day Grand Tour, taking in Europe's touristic highlights on the way to Mecca. Conflict between the father and the son is, therefore, inevitable. 

As their journey takes them across the Balkans and the famous bridge across the Bosphorus strait, connecting Europe and Asia, they are stopped at many borders and each time they are faced with language barriers. At the Turkish border, Mustapha, a middle-aged Turk who spent 30 years of his life in France where he raised a family which he eventually abandoned for a Turkish wife, acts as interpreter and joins father and son en route. The father is uneasy with the new travel companion, who seems to have a better rapport with Reda than he has and who clearly subverts the educational agenda of the pilgrimage. Pretending that Mustapha has stolen their travel funds, the father gets rid of this rival father-figure. 

The father tries to disconnect his son from the hectic hustle and bustle of modern-day existence. He throws away his son's mobile phone and insists on them taking small country roads instead of busy motorways. He is ready to give an old, confused woman a lift and he gives money to beggars. His son objects, especially since he fears that they have not even got enough money to keep them fed. When travelling through Syria and Jordan, they are on a diet of bread and eggs and Reda is very discontent. Eventually they reach Mecca. His father is immediately comfortable in the company of other pilgrims who travelled from all over the world to make the Hajj, though his fellow pilgrims are astonished that he chose to travel all the way from France by car. 

After the father has put on the ihram (two sheets of white cloth draped around the body in a particular way) and is ready to perform the various rites, he and Reda separate. When Reda later tries to find his father, an impossible endeavour amongst the millions of pilgrims, he is taken by a guard to a morgue, where he eventually identifies his father's body. Devastated by his father's unexpected death, he then assists his father to embark on what is really 'le grand voyage', the eternal journey to rejoin Allah, by performing washing his father's body, one of the Islamic death rituals. Then Reda sells the blue and orange car and gets into a cab that will take him to the airport, though not without first having given some money to a beggar. 

See also Peter Bradshaw's film review in The Guardian

Internet Movie Database

Filed under: Fathers | Journey | Maghrebi French | Religion | Sons

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