Now that I’ve seen Denis Villeneuve‘s Incendies (NY/LA, 4.22), I know that the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar race is probably down to a choice between Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s Biutiful and Susanne Bier‘s A Better World. Because as compelling and anchored and finely chiselled as Incendies is, it’s such an ugly and searing portrait of tribal rage, ignorance, cruelty and sadism that it’s finally one of those widely admired films that you’ll never want to see a second time, or even think about once it’s over.
Most critics have called Biutiful a tough thing to sit through, and it is that in some ways. But Incendies is such a grim march and so committed to the probing of an oppressive and penetrating vision of downer-hood that it would easily whip Inarritu’s ass in a one-on-one gloom match.
The story (based on Wajdi Mouawad‘s play of the same title) is clearly a reflection of the Lebanon horrors (Israeli army plus Christian militia vs. Lebanese PLO and non-combatants) of the ’70s and early ’80s. Aaah, to be immersed in primitive Arab-Lebanese-Christian rage on all sides — idiotic tribal traditions, threats of honor killings, sniper shootings, rural women shunning wronged women, torture, prison rape, machine-gun slaughter, burnt bodies, more torture, prolonged imprisonment…good stuff!
You’re sitting there going “boy, this sure is a good film…I wonder how much longer until it’s over?” I went out to the lobby around the 90-minute mark and asked the guy. He called the projectionist and got off the phone and gave me a look and told me to grim up and hang in there — I had another 35 to 40 minutes to go. Eff me. I really hate it when films thrust me into backward patriarchal societies and then block off all escape routes. What a completely nowhere fundamentalist culture we’re stuck with in this film, a world defined by rock and scrub brush and dust and hills and chained to such ongoing hate.
And to be doubly stuck in a lonnnng quest-for-the-ancestral-truth movie in which clue after clue is sought and uncovered, blah blah. Clue, hint, clue, hint…are we getting closer to finding out what really happened? No? It has to get there eventually, right?
Incendies is about a youngish Canadian brother and a sister whose Lebanese mother has recently died, and who are more less forcibly engaged in a search for their missing father and missing brother. And for all of it to end with a Chinatown-ish resolution that gives new meaning to the term “all in the family”? Which doesn’t really illuminate anything in a real-world sort of way? I don’t know, bro. A very “good” film but if I never see Incendies again it’ll be too soon. And I’ve seen Biutiful three times.