The premise of Granada Nights, the directorial debut from Abid Khan, seems promising enough, in that it reimagines the tired subgenre of a sad white guy going to a foreign country and learning how to live, love and laugh. Unfortunately, while refreshingly centring a British Asian protagonist, Khan’s film is hopelessly bogged down by a thin plot and cliched dialogues.
Square, Instagram-like framing opens this journey of self-discovery, capturing reserved 24-year-old Ben (Antonio Aakeel) en route from London to Granada, Spain, to surprise his long-distance girlfriend, Helen. The tight composition oozes anxiety, and Ben’s apprehensions are sadly proved right: Helen doesn’t even want to see his face. Heartbroken and sneering at hostels, Ben is persuaded by spunky backpacker Amelia (Quintessa Swindell) to stay and explore the city. One night turns into weeks and months as the formerly shy guy gets immersed in the buzzing international student scene. The aspect ratios gradually expand – reminiscent of Xavier Dolan’s Mommy – as the framing mirrors Ben’s newly acquired open-mindedness and inner peace.
Despite these ambitious stylistic flourishes, Granada Nights remains a frustrating watch. The gap is too apparent between what the film wants to be – a Richard Linklater-esque European wandering – and what the film actually is. Some of the writing is glaringly weak, especially in the first half where every line sounds like a contrived inspirational quote. As a result, this is at its best when there is no dialogue, and the camera simply follows Ben through the beautiful, ancient streets. The city comes alive then, but the drunken indoor student parties overshadow outdoor sequences.
Considering the script is based on Khan’s own experience during a sabbatical in Spain, it is a shame that such personal healing should transfer so blandly to screen. However, in a post-Brexit world, the film and its host of international characters will certainly make audience pine for the once robust Erasmus programme.