Khadija (Saadia Bentaïeb) is a cleaning lady who falls asleep on the metro for the first time in twenty years and misses her stop, running all the way to the end of the line. Stuck without a train home and with no money for a taxi, she decides to walk all the way home across half of Brussels. It’s a simple setup, but Ghost Tropic uses this scenario to beautifully explore the delicate urban environment she calls home. Bas Devos’ third feature, which premiered at Cannes, uses its 85 minute running time to cover more aspects of life than most three hour epics do. The opening sequence alone, where we watch Khadija’s living room slowly dim to black as the sun sets, as she whispers about her life, is leagues ahead of most of this year’s commercial releases.
Khadija’s elegant odyssey through the streets of Belgium’s capital city brings her several encounters with people who live on the different rungs of society, from the homeless to the rich. The film is a brilliantly constructed series of vignettes that explore how race, class, and gender interconnect in modern Belgian society. These fleeting moments say so much and yet feel so light. One moment with a homeowner, exasperated with his Polish cleaning lady, manages to cut through all the problems with race issues in Brussels, while never coming across as heavy-handed.
Bentaïeb is both the film’s beating heart and its audience surrogate. Her vividly expressive face should earn her considerable awards contention! Meanwhile, on the technical end, the shot-on-Kodak stock cinematography is flawless and grainy, while the minimal editing flows like the Zenne. A night-time voyage through a European melting pot, Ghost Tropic is a quietly stunning work of art, and one of the best films of the year.
Ghost Tropic screened at the 55th Chicago International Film Festival as part of the Global Currents program. The film will screen again on October 26th at 12:30 at AMC River East 21.