Where: The Belcourt
When: Through June 16
From this week's Scene:
Despite its ostensible subject matter, Denis Villeneuve's Incendies, an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film, has relatively little to say about the Middle East — other than the fact that it makes for a terrifically tense setting for a powerful modern-day fairy-tale-cum-family-melodrama. Villeneuve's story, adapted by the director himself from Wadji Mouawad's play, begins as a Canadian brother (Maxim Gaudette) and sister (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin) are presented with their recently deceased mother's strange final will and testament — two sealed envelopes, one to their previously unheard-of brother and the other to their long-thought-dead father. Mom was born and raised in an unspecified but war-ravaged section of the Middle East, so the carrying-out of this request from the grave requires a trip back to their troubled homeland, and to the mysterious and disturbing circumstances of their birth.
This setup provides Villeneuve plenty of opportunities to show grotesquerie and tragedy — buses full of civilians cavalierly massacred, snipers methodically blowing away children. Had Incendies tried to pass itself off as a statement on contemporary politics, such scenes would likely have come off as crude manipulation. But the film (if not its hucksterish marketing) eschews political grandstanding for character depth and development. The "Middle East" presented here is a hermetically sealed, immutable land devoid of geopolitical context. As a result, the twists and turns the story takes feel less like loaded contrivances, and more like epic human motivations — the stuff of grand opera. This isn't a topical movie, but rather an elemental one — a timeless meditation on evil and redemption, instead of a fleeting call for worldly justice. In English and subtitled French and Arabic.