“… a film that could have benefitted from being about 30 minutes shorter…”
I have been a fan of Denis Villeneuve since before I even knew who he was. The first film I saw of his was Prisoners, and since then I have started to connect the dots and realize that a lot of the really great movies over the past few years have been directed by him. I had seen most of his movies except for Incendies, his “debut” into the mainstream. Incendies is the story of a brother and sister (the twins), who’s mother leaves them instructions in her will to deliver letters to their father and brother. This is news to them, because they were told nothing of them when they were growing up. This sends the pair on a journey to retrace their mother’s footsteps in her youth to find their father, as well as their long-lost brother.
I really love Denis Villeneuve, but that doesn’t mean that I will blindly praise his films. This goes for any director or artist. Incendies is a film that I have heard people rave about for years, but after finally watching it I just didn’t get it. Maybe it was because I have seen Villeneuve’s more recent films where he has refined his craft, but Incendies is not a movie that engaged me in the slightest. The film is structured similarly to The Godfather 2. We get to see the journey of the parent, intercut with the journey of the child. This would be fine, but I felt that the stories didn’t have a whole lot going for them, especially toward the start of the film. We were just watching two stories unfold, but the pacing was off because as soon as we would get attached to one character the film would switch to another. Once the film started to get into the swing of things, and the stories started to become one, it improved but that was way too late in the game for it to completely save the film.
The movie was very well executed, with all technical aspects being wonderful. I really enjoyed the way that the film was shot, always managing to convey the bleakness even in very exotic landscapes. I enjoyed the score, although it did get a little repetitive. I liked the acting in the film, and that is where I think the film gets major points. Every character is so complex, and yet you understand them completely. The emotion shown in the film by even just the twins is amazing, but then you have a collection of other characters delivering great performances as well. I really enjoyed seeing the mother on her initial journey because you really got to feel for the character as the film went on. The film then bumps this up by having the children re-visit people from their mother’s past and see them react to and discuss the things that their mother went through. Emotion played a huge part in these interviews” because you could really see that everyone had a hard-line stand on her (the mother’s) character. Also seeing the children react to these characters discussing what their mother had done was amazing to behold.
What came close to saving the film for me was the ending. The ending of Incendies is really something to witness. The way that it wraps up the story in a nice little bow (while also wrapping your stomach in a bow) is masterfully done. Unfortunately, like I said, this was not enough to offset the disconnect I had with the entire beginning of the film. Incendies is a film that could have benefitted from being about 30 minutes shorter, just to tighten up the story.
Ultimately Incendies is a beautiful film, but one that is a chore at times to get through. With wonderful performances, direction, and writing its a shame that the story was so impersonal during the beginning of the film.
I give Incendies a B