Granada Nights – Film Review

Summer dreams are the focus of Granada Nights thereby provoking that sense of wanderlust and nostalgia. Granada Nights is a time capsule of summers past, as a student, when hearts were broken and travel was carefree in sun-soaked Southern Spain. The film is equally as romantic as it is a travel guide and presents Granada beautifully. Indeed, Granada with its omnipresent, breathtaking palace Alhambra, evokes those desires of sensual nights listening to flamenco and absorbing the city’s intoxicating effect to which the cinematography does immense justice. Granada Nights offers that sense of escapism that is almost impossible to resist as the year for travel beckons.

Granada Nights is truly a love letter to Granada with its underlying message to cherish those travel experiences and be ‘present’ rather than fixated on the past, which is not always easy when suffering from heartbreak like Ben. However, at the core of Granada Nights are the lessons taught, initially via some Spanish verbs, to the protagonist Ben, as the British tourist.  In Ben’s first Spanish lesson, the necessary distinction between ‘haber’ (to have) and ‘querer’ (to want) is underlined slightly clumsily but resonates with him.

Ensemble cast in Granada Nights
Ensemble cast in Granada Nights

Granada Nights, despite its tale of hedonism, friendship and self-discovery, enables that self-reflection of one’s inner desires and authenticity. The juxtaposition between evaluating what we have and what is truly wanted interspersed with an appreciation of life’s fleeting moments is superficially exposed in Granada Nights. The film completely captures Granada’s mesmerising essence, however, and strives to provide soul searching responses to its thought-provoking questions but only manages to skim over profound topics.

The mere escapades of travel seem thrilling in Granada Nights but Granada’s transience means there are ramifications for those left behind, partly blamed on the lack of genuine connections created. For Ben, played by an impressive Antonio Aakeel, the lure of Granada’s romanticism assists in his bid to woo his long distant girlfriend whilst becoming more involved in the world of Erasmus students. Granada Nights with its interchanging aspect ratio, highlights Ben’s growth and immerses the audience in Granada’s appeal with its narrow, winding streets and Moorish inspired baths. Whilst Granada Nights emphasises that travel is good for the soul there is also that degree of acknowledgement of the city’s colonial past which keeps the film grounded in realism.

Granada Nights has been described as a social drama and fully embraces its travel documentary role to unveil the bewitching nature of Granada, which understandably led to several characters remaining there for years unwittingly. Scenes of the passionate Andalusian Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions with the cofradías, intimate flamenco sessions playing and stunning images of Alhambra by sunset present a beautiful portrait of Granada and illustrate its allure. Granada is a fascinating, diverse city with its blend of Moorish and Christian architecture and culture which the film successfully captures. These attempts to celebrate its diversity do feel clunky, at times, as the concept of being foreign is bluntly executed within such a light-hearted film. As Granada Nights interweaves documentary style footage within its platitude heavy coming-of-age tale, the stunning cinematography threatens to overtake the entire film.

Flamenco performance in Granada in Granada Nights
Flamenco performance in Granada in Granada Nights

That is not to detract from the performances as Aakeel is convincing as the naive, unassuming but awkwardly charming Ben and the overall group dynamics work well. However, the film’s character development is lacking without any depth beyond caricatures. Granada Nights is therefore a light, feel good film that will certainly awaken that desire for travel to southern Spain. In this sense, the film is reminiscent of L’Auberge Espagnole (Pot Luck) by Cédric Klapisch in its depiction of an eclectic, international group of students living together in Spain.  Granada Nights differs as it also considers the viewpoint of some of the city’s older residents, such as a jaded French bar owner, an Algerian restaurateur and a random gypsy guitarist who counsel Ben on love and seizing life’s opportunities.

Granada Nights is a charming, beautifully poetic directorial debut by Abid Khan and was a winner of the Best Feature at the 2020 Barnes Film Festival. Granada Nights emphasises the positive impact of travel for self-development and its stunning cinematography encourages the appreciation of the cultural beauty of cities.  Filmed entirely on location in Granada, Granada Nights will certainly leave its mark on audiences and will invoke that desire to book a flight to Granada as soon as is possible.

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