Incendies: A Very Lazy Review
A few days ago, I watched Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies. It’s depressing. At certain points in the film, I wished I could look away and stop watching. I must be mad to want to see the horrors of war brought home so closely and so personally.
Still and all, I love the film’s opening scene. It’s very powerful—felt a lot like being pelted with switch plates. The image comes first; the terrible explanation follows much later.
Twins Jeanne and Simon are baffled when their mother’s will stipulates a strange request: to deliver two letters: one to a brother they never knew they had, another to a father they believed to be dead.
“I know this is quite unusual, but you mother was not crazy,” the notary tells them. Thus begins the twins’ quest for the truth about their mother’s existence and why she was unable to love them as a mother should.
The opening scene could have been any refugee camp scene, but Villenueve made sure it isn’t. The deliberate slowness of the movements, the color-treatment of the subjects, the Radiohead song playing in the background, and then the camera’s focus on a child’s tattooed heel are visceral moments that tell you, early on, this isn’t a film you’d have time for enjoying that popcorn you’d brought along.
What I like about Incendies is that it avoids the pitfall of most diaspora films: we are told atrocities happened but these are too horrific to be shown or talked about. Everybody just walks around looking traumatized, whispering of horrors the magnitude of which we are left to deduce as the film unfolds. Incendies doesn’t give you this cop-out. Instead, it shows you a story that really is too terrible to tell, and makes you witness every moment of it.
This was the last letter that the twins read:
My loves, where does your story begin?
I say that your story begins with a promise that breaks the thread of anger.
Do I recommend you watch Incendies? Yep, but not if you’re already moping about. This film’s a serious downer so you might want to skip it if you’re already feeling sulky, cranky, or suicidal. I wish to God I didn’t watch this film when I did. That night, I ended up unable to sleep.
I know I whine so about wishing my head came with a switch, but the night I saw Incendies, I whined even more enthusiastically for a head switch. For someone who’s doing her best to focus only on happy things, I sure know how to shoot myself in the foot every single time. Case in point: after Incendies, I watched Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others. Christ on a bike, that one was even worse. Even before the credits rolled, I was already a blubbering wreck. I’m seriously considering not watching any more films. If my goal is just to cheer myself up, I’d be better off buying myself paper hats and a bag of lollipop.