• Angus McGregor

First Time Watch: Incendies

Updated: Jun 25, 2020

Welcome back to my new series of film reviews, 'First Time Watch'. Last week I watched The Coen Brothers masterpiece 'Fargo' and I simply could not have been more impressed with the results of it. A truly superb film that I am kicking myself for not seeing earlier and it also seemed to go down well with those who read my piece- thank you to all those who did.

Now last week, my approach to choosing a film was a little, ehm, chaotic to say the least. Rather than leaving it up to chance, I felt I should take a look at any sort of film news - not that there's much other than postponed movies and rich executives talking about reopening cinemas as soon as they can. There really isn't an awful lot to go on these days but thankfully, we were delivered a little something that I could definitely milk something out of.

Now a few days ago, more set photos were released from 'Dune', the science-fiction epic starring everybody's favourite walking jawline Timothee Chalamet. The film keeps dropping stills of the likes of Chalamet alongside co-stars Zendaya and Josh Brolin. A cast with those names - and many more - is enough to excite many but for many film fans, the draw is the film's director. Helming the project is French-Canadian Denis Villeneuve who has developed quite the résumé over the past decade. Villeneuve has to have the strongest selection of movies in the past decade, firing out 'Prisoners', 'Enemy', 'Sicario', 'Arrival', and 'Blade Runner 2049' since 2013, who can match that?

There is also one other film that Villeneuve released in the last decade that was absent from the aforementioned list.

Film Synopsis: Nawal (Lubna Azabal), a dying Middle Eastern woman living in Montreal, leaves separate letters to her twin children to be read once she passes away. Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) is to deliver hers to the father the twins never knew, and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) is to give his to the brother they never knew they had. The siblings travel to the Middle East separately, where they each experience acts of brutality, uncover a startling family history and have revelations about themselves.

In 2010, Villeneuve directed 'Incendies', a French-language melodrama war thriller that gained him his first real international recognition. With an Oscar nomination for Best International Feature Film under his belt, a new star was born as Villeneuve's career progressed to great recognition. With such major features under his belt, there's no surprise that some of Villeneuve's first outings have fell under the radar.

As seen in his other works, notably 'Sicario' and 'Arrival', international conflict has become a theme that Villeneuve is close with, seeing importance to showcase the brutalities within said conflict alongside deploying some more hopeful and deeper meanings behind it. 'Incendies' definitely follows the former more so, with a deep exploration of the issues that refugees face. Following a melodramatic plot, the film explores sensational moments that look to draw emotion and this is by far the film's strongest aspect. With plenty of mystery, intrigue and, of course, shocks, the film builds up tension continuously with truly heart-wrenching moments that truly showcase the horrific conditions many face.

In the same week where the weasel that is N***l F****e continues to berate refugees from trying to escape their war-torn countries, this film had a deeper impact on me. The film pulls no punches in showcasing the hatred in these places and for such silly reasons. It is absolutely harrowing to see as the film possesses some truly haunting imagery, showing there is no mercy and no thought to their brutal ways. For innocent people, it is an absolute nightmare as we see the senseless acts to normal civilians attending school or simply onboard public transport. These issues are something that we in the west do not experience or even know the full details of which showcases the importance of representation and inclusion of foreign films.

However, due to the film's roots in melodrama, it seems to be the main plague of the finale. Villeneuve looks to cause shocks at every turn and for the most part, it works to great effect. However, it does take it one too far, with a plot twist of sorts that is indeed shocking but leaves you scratching your head a little. More problematically is that I feel it undercuts its message to do with refugees in what was a disappointing ending. The ending has a whole seems like quite a stretch to the viewer and didn't pack that last emotional punch that matched the prior events, seeming more akin to a soap opera storyline than an Oscar feature.

The film does strive to be more than a melodrama, by trying to incorporate deeper theories and Greek tragedy within the film. The use of the mathematic equation was weaved in and throughout particularly skillfully which is a huge credit to the screenwriting team (Villeneuve and Valérie Beaugrand-Champagne). Humongous praise must also go to actress Lubna Azabel. Her character is certainly put through a lot but she was terrific and engaging in every instance. A fairly quiet performance at times but the feelings of the character was never lost in translation in what is a superb piece of acting.

'Incendies' is an incredibly emotional piece of work that does a great job in showcasing the terrors and issues that are plaguing many countries even through to this day. It's powerful and provocative but doesn't quite nail the landing which unfortunately does leave a sour taste. Nonetheless, it's clear to see Villeneuve's talent early on in what is a film well worth checking out.

Final Rating: 4/5

The second week of my new series brought an eye-opening lesser-known film from one of the world's best working directors. Thankfully, another successful entry to add to the short list so far and one to recommend to all! Thank you again for reading my post, I appreciate it lots and hope you enjoyed the read. Make sure to return next week for more opinions on films I probably should have seen by now and I'll see you in the next one!

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