The main character is a widowed Connecticut Economics professor. He’s taught the same course for six years, he’s not busy, he’s bored, lonely, isolated, locked in a successful life by material standards, but he has no family around him, no emotional wealth. He has no connection, and the movie, like Summertime, focuses in on the idea of loneliness and society, belonging, culture and connection. What brings Walter Vale back to the world of the living is to find out that a small-time crook has rented his apartment to a young couple of illegal immigrants. Through his friendship with the husband, a Syrian man who plays the Djembe professionally, he rediscovers life, learns how to play the drums, and becomes involved in a family to a depth that surprises even him.
It’s a very sensitive movie. I went to see it because I’d loved the director’s previous work (The Station Agent) but this was a wonderful surprise. The theme of illegal immigrants in a post-911 US is timely, the soundtrack of joyful drums is uplifting, the message is strong. Look out for the magnetic performances of Richard Jenkins and Hiam Abbass, as the mother of the Syrian man.