INCENDIES: 3 ½ STARS (UNTIL THE VERY END)
“Incendies,” Canada’s entry in the Oscar race for Best Foreign Film, was made by a Quebec filmmaker and shot in the Middle East but plays like a Greek tragedy. Adapted from Wajdi Mouawad’s acclaimed play of the same name it weaves a complicated story of, as reported on IMDB, “of deep-rooted hatred, never-ending wars and enduring love.”
The story begins with a mother’s last wish, a request in her will that her estranged twin kids travel to her homeland (an unnamed Middle Eastern country) in search of some hard truths about her life and, ultimately, their very existence.
I have to start by saying that “Incendies” is expertly made, with gorgeous cinematography, great performances, particularly from Lubna Azabal as the mother Nawal, and at least one sequence as memorable as anything we’ll see on screen this year—a harrowing attack on a bus by Christian extremists—but my overall feeling of the film is tempered by the movie’s closing moments.
I have a theory that the last minutes of a movie can color the way you feel about a film. For instance a so-so movie can be bolstered by a blockbuster ending. Similarly a great movie with a weak ending can come down a notch or two in the viewer’s estimation.
Such is the case with “Incendies.” Director Denis Villeneuve—the helmer of Maelström and Polytechnique —is not one to shy away from the difficult or unpalatable aspects of whatever story he is telling, which is normally a good thing. That makes him one of the braver and more interesting filmmakers working today. And while for much of the running time “Incendies” plays like a roll call of misery, it all seems to fit, until the very end when he caps the story with a revelation so unbelievable it makes the rest of the film ring hollow. Being shocked at the theatre is one thing. We don’t have enough movie moments that really challenge us these days, but a climax this unsatisfying isn’t shocking really, just disappointing after such an interesting film.
I can’t go into details without revealing a MAJOR plot point but suffice to say that an ending that stretches credulity to this point is almost worse than no ending at all.