While this will not come as a shock to those of you who actually take the time to read my reviews, I actually receive some rather robust criticism from some of you twisted souls. Though I must confess that I’ve always enjoyed that type of negative energy (again, there is a reason that I have survived semi-sane after 35 years of criminal defense work), the one critique that I find unfair goes like this, “You seem to nearly recommend every movie that you see. Do you ever go to one that you dislike?”
First of all, let me remind you of my reviews of the woeful The God Fockers, The Green Hornet and Green Lantern, not to mention the lamentable Bad Teacher. More to the point, however, I openly admit to having a low threshold for entertainment. I don’t go to any movie looking to be critical, but to be entertained. And I certainly don’t deny the blessing or curse (pick one) where I can find some type of redeeming quality in almost any film.
Nonetheless, drawing on the experience of being an ardent film aficionado for over 50 years, I’ve developed a pretty good feel for the films that are truly lamentable. As a result, I can only tell you cynics that there are any number of films that I don’t like. Those are the films that I don’t see!
So let me unashamedly say that Incendies is a justifiably praised foreign film that came and went from Indianapolis after one short week. Recently, it reappeared for a brief stay at what is now known as the “Movie Buff’s Theater” (the old Sony/Lowe’s located at 86th Street and Michigan Road), and I was thankfully able to see it on the big screen. Simply stated, it is a brilliant psychological drama, and it would play well on your screen at home.
If you were fortunate enough to see the trailer, then you have to be already intrigued. A brother and sister, twins in their 20’s, are called into a kindly notary’s office where their late mother’s will is to be read. After a quick disbursing of her assets, they are handed two envelopes. The notary informs them that it is their mother’s wish that they hunt down the father they have never met and hand him one envelope and give the other to a brother that they didn’t know they had. In addition, the mother’s will stipulates that she is to be buried naked, face down in the ground without any marking on her grave, and should the children accomplish their tasks, they can then come back and have her properly re-interred with an appropriate headstone.
The twins are obviously emotionally shell-shocked. Jeanne, the sister, played magnificently by Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin, immediately decides to fulfill her beloved mother’s wishes, while the son, convincingly played by Maxim Gaudette, rejects the whole concept as absurd.
It is truly impossible to describe what unfolds in this provocative and unsettling drama without giving key elements of the plot away. Suffice it to say that the journey of the daughter takes her from Canada to the Middle East where she soon learns that her mother was nothing as she seemed. She gradually learns of her mother’s upbringing during the horrific sectarian wars that ripped Lebanon apart for decades. The mother’s transition from a starry-eyed romantic young woman into a militant avenger is revealed against the backdrop of the violence that saw Christians, Muslims and Jews callously massacre the other.
Lubna Azabel gives a heartbreaking performance as the twins’ mother Nowal. She may endure the plagues of Job, but you can never break her spirit. What she does for her children is the ultimate testament to a mother’s love. This exquisite film is not for the faint of heart, as the flashbacks of her mother’s tortured journey graphically includes horrific acts of violence that include the random execution of innocent civilians, mothers and young children included. Eventually joined by her reluctant brother, these siblings discover the shocking identity of their father and brother against a backdrop of man’s unlimited capacity to engage in inhumane acts.
The dialogue is alternately in French, English and Arabic with appropriate subtitles, so please be advised. But even for those of you with an aversion to subtitles, let me just say that the emotional impact of this film makes the dialogue almost inconsequential in any form. This is a film that will challenge you visually and emotionally, and the impact is likely to stay with you long after leaving the theater.