Time Out rating:
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Time Out says
Tue Jun 21 2011Pain, suffering, humiliation, bloodshed, martyrdom, misogyny, corruption, political instability, family secrets and death: the Oscar-nominated ‘Incendies’ by Québécois director Denis Villeneuve, based on a play by Wajdi Mouawad, is not what you’d call a laugh riot. A smouldering exploration of family ties and how the hardships of the recently deceased can have a damaging psychological effect on those left behind, it’s framed as a hokey mystery, set up via a cryptic last will and testament left by a mother (Lubna Azabal) to her son (Maxim Gaudette) and daughter (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin). She insists her kids travel from Montreal to the Middle East and uncover the identities of an estranged brother and father. That she wasn’t able to muster the strength to disclose these details during her lifetime offers an eloquent window on her past agonies.
Having created a film reminiscent of the sand-blasted misery workouts of Alejandro González Iñárritu (specifically ‘Babel’), Villeneuve appears to believe that narrative contrivance can and should be overlooked if the emotional pay-off is hefty enough. In fact, where there should be tears there’s a void simply because events become more far-fetched the further this twisty tale unfurls. The less said about what the kids find on their journey the better, because, as tough as the story is to swallow, Villeneuve at least builds his film with a measure of understated style. But while the characters lack credibility, the social backdrop and texture of the performances certainly don’t, and Villeneuve manages to say more about the sorry state of the Middle East (Lebanon is suggested but never mentioned) through the bold, crisp way he shoots faces, buildings and parched, beige-brown landscapes. So let’s call it’s a strong film based on a weak story.
Author: David Jenkins