Friday, July 1, 2011


"The Mystery of 'The Woman Who Sings' and 'Nihad of May'"
"Doing the Math"

Incendies (aka Fire, although I doubt it will ever go by that name) looked so intriguing in the trailer that when it rolled around, I had to go see it.  A Candian film by Denis Villeneuve, it previewed like a political thriller, when it is more of mystery story and a family drama.  But, as it is set primarily in the Middle East, things are only a stone's throw from getting political.

It begins with the reading of a will.  Twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) are the only ones in attendance at the reading of the legacy of their mother Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal, a very nice performance) at the offices of Notary Jean Lebel (Rémy Girard), who was her employer for 18 years.   The will has some odd requests, which is just further proof to Simon that his mother was crazy.  They are each given an envelope, one to be given to their father—thought killed in battle in the Middle East long ago—and the other to their brother, which neither child knew they had.  When those tasks have been accomplished, then they will receive another envelope, at which time they will be allowed to put a stone on her unmarked grave.  Until then, there is to be nothing to mark her passing.  The twins part ways, Simon bitter over their mother's perceived foolishness, while Jeanne, a theoretical mathematician by trade—"no problem is unsolvable" says her mentor—goes off to find the answer to the mother of all mysteries.

It is then that Villaneuve starts telling twin stories—of Jeanne's trip to her mother's Palestine homeland, and the mother's journey, leaving her village in disgrace and becoming an activist against the far-right Christian militiaAs with everything in the Middle-East the stories Jeanne gets are polarizing when she actually does find some of the elders who remember her mother, and her investigation picking through the rubble of her mother's past lags slightly behind the flash-back sequences as we get the full details that Jeanne is not privy toDespite getting a clearer picture, the film has so many twists and turns that no one gets the full story until the end, to a solution that negates the basic premise of Jeanne's quest in the grand scheme of things.

Villaneuve's film is a little disorienting—you have to really pay attention as the locales and personae shift betwen stories, as there's usually a little initial disorientation between transitions—and there is one superfluous section that could have been edited with no harm done to the story.  And there is a stretch of credibility that can only be rationalized if you buy into the inevitability of the dramatically circuitous path of the tale.  If you can make that leap, it is an interesting mystery that concludes with another—the mystery of the heart.

Incendies is a Matinee.

1 comment:

Duke said...

Very nice review sir - I'm looking forward to this one.