Monday, November 7, 2016

Movie Review: INCENDIES

Welcome back to this mini-series of reviews of the feature films* of revered filmmaker Denis Villeneuve in the lead-up to his latest film Arrival. This third review in the series is for his 2010 film Incendies.

Incendies is another challenging entry in the filmography of director Denis Villeneuve. It follows a complicated family drama about twins who, following their mother’s death, need to dig through a mystery surrounding a brother they didn’t know existed whom their mother wanted them to find as per her will. I won’t get further into the story because having gone in blind myself, I think that is a useful way to go into this film. The film stars Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette, Rémy Girard, and Allen Altman.

Overall I think Incendies is another solid entry in Villenueve’s filmography even if it continues a theme of emotionally challenging films after the draining Polytechnique. Villeneuve captures a story that is, at base, a mystery and all the elements associated with that but that also ties to civil war in the Middle East including a lot of horrifying and grim actions and situations that arise out of that situation. Villeneuve shows an emotional deftness in this film and never steps away from showing something incredibly grim to get the point across which made this film, like his others, incredibly effective. I also think the shot design style he has further enhanced the emotional base and the realism in this film which made it even more effective.

One thing in terms of growth (and that you get from reviewing all these films in a row) is a clear elevation of the artistry in the creation of this film. Although it has a certain rawness, in comparison to Polytechnique this film feels much more artful and less like following a real series of events. This film both looks more cinematic and has some stunningly constructed shots. I was sitting watching this film and was just in awe at the beauty he achieved in this film that made it much more impactful in some ways.

I also think this film was extremely well written. This film moves backward and forward through time really interestingly and separates various acts in distinct parts. The mystery and the way it unfolds is also really clever and made this all the more effective. It also managed to do this being written fully in French and Arabic maintaining a truthfulness to the characters and their geography that made this all the more authentic.

I didn’t find Incendies to be a perfect film, however. For one thing, the complexity of this mystery and the situation made it really hard to relate to and fully connect to the emotional stakes of the story. In some sense you certainly do on a human level but it was hard to get the level of investment that better films manage to achieve. I also thought that the performances, though largely solid, didn’t stick out as particularly strong. Villeneuve’s work enhances them all, but none stood out powerfully enough for me to get the gravity of this film.

Overall, I think Incendies is a very solid film with great art and authenticity that make it an effective film. It is a mystery that flows intriguingly from start to finish and kept me enthralled throughout. I didn’t find myself completely knocked off my feet by this film as my inability to fully relate to the emotion of the situation and the standard level of the performances caused it to not connect with me on a deeper level. Definitely worth a watch though and it could well work differently on you.

Ryan’s Score: 8.5/10

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* This series of reviews will include all of Villeneuve’s features except the 2000 film Malestrom due to it being highly difficult to obtain prior to the start of this series.