Weekend Movie Picks is a segment at Shoton35.com, where every 2 weeks on Friday I will pick a movie that’s shot on 35mm film and tell you something about it.
| Twins journey to the Middle East to discover their family history, and fulfill their mother’s last wishes.
When people watch the Oscars, they don’t usually care about the Best Foreign Film nominees. Incendies provides so many reasons why people should actually get to see those nominees at all costs. It is the kind of film that one walks away from feeling emotionally drained, one where it stays in the viewer’s mind for days on end. Like an intense personal experience, it takes a lot to come to grips with the film’s story, a moving plot full of twists and catharsis.
Incendies was what many people consider Villeneuve’s breakout film, earning him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. It is also the last film Villeneuve made before transitioning into making English Language films. It is safe to say that this film is what got him Prisoners and practically launched his career. And if you have seen his other films up to Arrival, you can see that this is, in fact, a Villeneuve film. Everytime I watch one of his films, I feel like a filmmaking connection with the guy, which I find difficult to explain (I might give it a try to go in-depth with this soon in a written essay). I strongly believe that Villeneuve is one of the best suspense directors since Hitchcock. Villeneuve knows how to capture an audience and move them through a story, and he does so with ease and perfection in this film.
Based on a play by Wajdi Mouawad named ‘Scorched’, there is a shadow and influence of Oedipus that lurks around Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies. An unmatched dramatic constellation of greek tragedy and a detective story, Incendies finds an engaging way to end the circle of violence and anger (referring to the title which translates to ‘destruction by fire’). So engaging it caught Villeneuve while watching the play for the first time;
“The play was staged in a very small theatre – Théâtre de Quat’Sous. I was sitting in the second row, as I’d bought the last tickets for the final performance. The script was like a punch in the jaw and I emerged from the theatre on shaky knees. Right away I knew I was going the make it into a movie
– Denis Villeneuve
The story of Incendies is so strong and so emotionally draining, so much that it stayed in my head for a very long time. And since when I first saw it in 2013, it still lingers around. Never (and I mean ever) has a movie hit me that hard emotionally. The movie is not a slow burn, as it’s gripping throughout the film, but it is told in a meticulously slow fashion that sneaks up on you and you don’t realise how hard it will hit you until you’re wiping tears from your face. It’s dark, tense and won’t leave you with a warm glow. It’s the sort of film that delves deep into the blackness of your soul and finds nothing. It’s haunting and persistently grabs you by your throat until you find yourself breathless.
On the surface, Incendies might come out as an unusual family drama about the horrors of hidden truths but it’s more than that. It’s an astonishing, powerful and devastating take on the anger the boils inside the family and society. The anger that can’t be equated with anything and the anger that’s really hard to cancel out.
During the writing process, Villeneuve got the best gift a filmmaker can receive: Creative Freedom. Wajdi Mouawad, who was off to write a play in Paris, gave Villeneuve a “Carte Blanche” to adapt his play into a movie;
“The film Incendies that Denis has made from the play is the work of an outstanding artist. In that context, it cannot be considered an adaptation of the play: to define it that way would be to diminish it and that would be unfair. The film Incendies is a complete work in its own right: it owes nothing to anyone and it rests entirely on Denis’ talent as a filmmaker. It all belongs to him. It all comes down to him. And that is tremendous.”
– Wajdi Mouawad
One could feel tell that the screenplay adaptation, which Villeneuve collaborated with Valérie Beaugrand-Champagne, turned Mouawad’s work into a respected and admired, multi award-winning picture. The film is picturesque, memorable in every scene, surprising, tense and mysterious in parts. Villeneuve portrays a vulnerable and curious vision from Nawal’s viewpoint, one that is applicable to any person regardless of religion and political parties, but sharing the same circumstances. The story is based on events that happened during the Lebanese Civil War of 1975 to 1990, but Villeneuve attempted to make the location of the plot ambiguous;
“I decided to follow the play’s lead and set my film in an imaginary space like Costa Gavras’ “Z” so as to free it from any political bias. The film is about politics but is also apolitical. The play’s purpose was to delve into the subject of anger and not to fuel such anger. And the setting of Incendies is a historical minefield.”
André Turpin’s amazing cinematography deserves special mention. He manages to capture on 35mm film both the vast power of the Middle Eastern desert and villages as well as the moments of intimacy. The musical score by Grégoire Hetzel enhances the atmosphere and the story line very subtlety. Villeneuve used a Radiohead track as the opening soundtrack of film, a very powerful and a very smart choice if you ask me. The track of their 2001 album ‘Amnesiac’ “You And Whose Army?” kicks in as an effective backdrop, reaching the crescendo as a child stares through the screen into us and transfers his thoughts through the song’s lyrics.
The acting is absolutely fantastic, Lubna Azabal as the mother is simply exceptional in this film. She is more and more broken up with everything that happens to her and you really see how things take its toll on her. Even simple things like her facial expressions just feel so real and painful. Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette (which Villeneuve worked previously with on Polytechnique) were also fantastic in this film and the conflicted emotions they were feeling felt believable in every way and just their reactions to everything felt so real. And Rémy Girard also adds to the film as he clearly cares about helping them find out the truth and honour their mothers wishes.
Incendies is a marvelous film and without a doubt to this date still my favourite Villeneuve directed movie. Incendies is a masterpiece that’s hidden in plain sight, and is one that you simply have to experience for yourself. If you like Villeneuve’s other work, I strongly recommend you check this one out.