Sep 02, 2015iwasthewalrus rated this title 3 out of 5 stars
Following the death of their mother, Simon and Jeanne are gathered for the reading of her last will and testament. It’s there they discover some shocking truths about their mother’s past. Her final wish is for her two children to return to her birthplace and find their father and their long lost brother to deliver a mysterious enveloped letter to each. Jeanne feels inclined to carry out her deceased mother’s request, whereas Simon is rendered bitter and reluctant out of grief. Alone, Jeanne begins to investigate her mother’s past as the film shifts back and forth from the present to flashbacks, slowly unravelling the disturbing secrets her mother left unspoken.
Incendies is a harrowing film, filled with powerful scenes that unflinchingly depict the horrors of war and hatred. A certain scene set on a bus feels almost like a sequence from Schindler’s List , except filmed with the restraint Spielberg can’t understand or handle. Denis Villeneuve is a talented filmmaker, and perhaps the most prominent evidence of this is during the aforementioned bus scene. The passengers have just been fired out by a swarm of machine guns, and the few survivors lie on the ground in silence, looking at the bodies that surround them. Everything is communicated non-verbally, but Villeneuve can tell so much using his actors’ wordless shock.
The ending of the film relies on a major twist which is absolutely unpredictable and undeniably surprising. But just as many of the previous scenes do, the twist relies heavily on a very unlikely coincidence and numerous implausibilities. The ending is completely contrived to the point of absurdity, but personally, it took some time for that fact to settle. When it was first revealed, I was taken aback and astounded. But then I considered it and realized just how poorly written it was. This is a reminder of a common flaw in movies; just because a plot twist is unexpected, by no means makes it good. If it can’t be both believable and effective, it’s useless.
At 130 minutes, the film occasionally feels overlong, but has enough brilliant scenes to re-tighten its grip on the viewer whenever it shifts into slight tedium. A curious device Villeneuve uses, which in the very least makes Incendies more interesting, is the Radiohead motif. A couple tracks from the album “Amnesiac” are played throughout. The choice of music seems somewhat strange at first. The film has a highly realistic feel to it, whereas Radiohead has an almost otherworldly tone. But it ends up giving Incendies a visceral feel, something which it lacked during the less intriguing moments.
It’s a film that thrives on marvelous performance, some very striking and memorable images, and Villeneuve’s ability to direct emotional passages. Yet other aspects are unforgivable. The general sense of realism and truth is marred by an ending with all the logic and likelihood of an M. Night Shyamalan twist.