“Incendies” film review: Sophocles eat your heart out!
Last night I saw the Canadian film Incendies. It is a work of such sublime nuance and poetic irony that it could only be an inheritance of the theatre tradition – and of course, it was. Adapted from Wajdi Mouawad’s award-winning play, Denis Villeneuve’s film tells a story as broad as the horrors of religious-political conflict in the Middle East, and as contained as a (no less horrific) family tragedy.
A scathing look at the human casualties of civil war, Incendies is both beautiful and hideous to behold. The contrast of human pathos and monstrosity play counterpoint before a backdrop of chaos and oblivion. The surreal juxtaposition of soulful bureaucrats with soulless religious ideologues are posed as transient figments beside the eternal paradigm of a mother’s unfailing love. As such, even amid these unthinkable and inhuman circumstances, the unbreakable force of human strength, and compassion remain the central themes, and provide the story’s sole redemptive note.
I sat, horrified by what I was seeing, and transfixed by the beautiful subtlety of the performances by Lubna Azabal as protagonist Nawal Marwan, and of Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin as her daughter Jeanne. I began to feel accustomed to a world that I was being skillfully drawn in to by a masterful artist, with a sophisticated vision. This film is not shocking for the sake of “shock value”, nor is it self-congratulatory in its artistry. In the cinematic articulation of Incendies there is beautiful narrative poignancy, a clear sense of mythic tragedy, and yet an unwillingness to compromise the simple reality of what is.
Though wrenching emotionally, I found myself in the end, wanting more not less of these movies. And I wonder why it is that the North American film audience seems to have moved so far from a willingness to be challenged in mainstream film. Why has film become a medium of escapism, rather than of substance of late? Why has it been that every film about the Iraq war has been a box office flop?
It seems to have become the role of film critics alone to tout the brilliance of films such as these. To mainstream film audiences these critically acclaimed films sound ever more indistinguishable from the proverbial broccoli that enthusiastic parents are forever thrusting on their reticent offspring. Am I the only one saddened by this?