April 12, 2014

Incendies (2010)
Grade: 83/100

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette

What it's about. A preposterous, but nonetheless remarkable, saga of a Lebanese Christian woman (Lubna Azabal) and her traumas during Lebanon's civil war (1975 to 1990). Eventually, she leads a quiet life in French-speaking Canada, raising her twin children Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette).

How others will see it. Incendies created an immediate critical stir upon release. It dominated Canada's Jutra and Genie Awards, winning nine of the former and eight of the latter. It also received Best Foreign Language Film nods at both the Oscars and BAFTA.

At imdb.com, the film has a sizeable 46K user votes and an extremely high and consistent user rating of 8.2 out of 10, enough to place the film in the lower reaches of the website's Top 250. The user reviews are loaded with laudatory praise.

How I felt about it. Incendies is a very disconcerting film. By that, I am not referring to the ostensibly gut wrenching big plot twist, but instead, its utter implausibility. Here we have a woman who survives the shooting of her lover because her mother calls her to dinner, bears a child in secret which just happens to get tatooed on the ankle, is separated from the child, who just happens to become a legendary terrorist and torturer. As an adult, the mother is sent off to school (who paid?) where she learns perfect English.

Years later, the mother searches for the son, and the son searches for the mother. The mother is the sole survivor of a bus massacre, becomes a hitman, and assassinates the Lebanese Christian leader, but not before correcting his son's spelling of "always." But because it is a movie, the mother isn't executed, but is sent to prison, and isn't tortured to find out who sent her on the assassination mission, until fifteen years later.

Then, against all odds, she is raped and impregnated by her own son. She is released from prison (why?) and the twin infants are returned to her (r-i-ght) and the Muslim kingpin finds her a cozy job way off in Canada, where she just happens to run into her rapist son, again, half the world away from Lebanon, and at a swimming pool, the only place where his tattoo will be visible.

The parade of unbelievable events continues when the prison nurse is located on her deathbed, and the mother's will has the bizarre insistence of making our predictably comely and brilliant twins travel around the world (where they run into one dead end after another except for, invariably, one person who can tell them what they need to know next) only to learn that their rapist father/brother lives practically next door to them in Canada. It seems that the mother left out that important information in the will instructions.

As if that knowledge does them any good. As for the rapist father/brother, know I suppose he will now feel really bad about all the people he murdered and raped in Lebanon. Sure.

So, the plot is preposterous. Further, while the plot reveals nearly unspeakable mysteries, one has to wonder: What have we (through the eyes of the twins) learned? That your parents are both multiple murderers, and you have been conceived in prison via a rapist?

How, then, can a story that is both deadening and unbelievable create such an excellent film? Perhaps the tired proverb has some meaning after all: life is a journey instead of a destination. The comparable film is Black Book, another near-great film which has our Jewish heroine and terrorist survive World War II in Germany against all odds. The impact comes from the horror of the individual events, and not from their likelihood or social commentary.