Lubna Azabal and Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin as mother and daughter in ‘Incendies’
If this film’s relatively low-key UK release has slipped under your radar, I urge you to sniff it out and go see. Undoubtedly one of the films of the year in the UK, it claims to be 130 mins long but it seemed like 90 mins. I was gripped for every second. It is a powerful film that often achieves its impact by understatement – but still leaves you awestruck at the end.
The narrative is partly a mystery so I’ll avoid spoilers. The set-up is something like a Wilkie Collins narrative. After a pre-credit sequence set somewhere in the ‘Middle East’ (or ‘the Levant’ as the French used to call it) the narrative switches to Quebec where twins Simon and Jeanne are sitting before a notary who is reading their mother’s will. She was his secretary in the legal practice so the notary feels almost like family. It is a strange will which involves each of the twins being given a letter. One is required to find another sibling who is unknown to them. The other is required to find the father they had assumed was dead. The narrative then unfolds in parallel strands – one relating the events as the twins travel (separately) to their mother’s native country and the other via flashbacks revealing some of the various terrible events that the mother experienced directly.
The country and the history are never identified. The film was shot in Jordan but the nature of the events (Christian-Muslim conflict in a civil war) suggests Lebanon. The film doesn’t attempt to explain anything about the war as such. It is simply ‘shocking’. The reviewer for the World Socialist Website finds this problematic. I agree that the war does need to be contextualised in terms of anti-Imperialist struggles, but I think a filmmaker should be allowed to focus on a personal history – and in any case, the conflicts of this region are highly complex and can’t easily be explained in global political terms.
The original ‘property’ was a stage play by Wajdi Mouawad who left Lebanon as an 8 year-old in 1976, initially for France but then for Montreal. His play has been performed and very well received around the world. The four central characters are all exceptionally well-played by three Canadians and Lubna Azabal who is the Belgian-born daughter of Moroccan and Spanish parents. She’s probably best known as the ‘exile’ in the Palestinian film Paradise Now (2005). I’ve seen a complaint about her ‘Moroccan Arabic’ but that seems a pointless remark about a character in a film where her native country is not identified. (She presumably also speaks French with a Belgian not Montreal accent, but so what?) Anyway, she is sensationally good, especially since she must age 30 years. It’s a performance not to be missed – like the film.
Sight and Sound made this its ‘Film of the Month’ in July 2011. The same issue includes an interview with director Denis Villeneuve.
(Sony) Official website with Press Kit etc.
Official Canadian trailer:
Jill Clayburgh and Kristen Wiig in 'Bridesmaids', photo: Suzanne Hanover/©Universal Pictures
I watched Bridesmaids partly out of a genuine attempt to research what is popular with contemporary audiences and partly because my partner was intrigued enough to want to see it. We were part of a mainly female audience in a small auditorium (100 seats half full). The audience appeared to have a good time. I laughed out loud a couple of times but I’m obviously not the target audience. I never got completely bored but I did close my eyes and wish some scenes would end sooner than they did.
I haven’t seen many (perhaps even any) truly ‘gross out’ comedies before and I’ve avoided Judd Apatow comedies and so-called ‘bromance’ movies so that probably gives me a different perspective on this (Apatow-produced) film. Let me first put aside the silly debate that the film has generated among some journalists. To even ask a question like “Can women be as funny as men?” is baffling given that two of the funniest shows ever on US TV were the Lucille Ball shows in the 1950s-70s and Roseanne in the 1980s and 1990s. A more pertinent question is how do US film and TV get to remain such sexist institutions in which women have far less clout than men? Bridesmaids is written by two women but directed and produced by men – why? (This extends to all the other creatives on the film – i.e. all men except for the usual female costume designer.)
The film is long for a comedy at 125 minutes. I’m not sure why it has been extended like this. I suspect that the narrative is caught between the demands of a short gag-packed comedy and a longer comedy drama. I enjoyed the drama elements but I was surprised at how sentimental the film was. Even the villain of the film was redeemed in the final reel alongside the conventional happy ending of a traditional romcom. I had been looking forward to the final humiliation of the villain and/or a more realistic ending for the central protagonist. I know that was expecting the impossible but there you go. As for the vomit jokes etc., the first time they were funny but then it got boring (one reviewer I read suggested that these were additions by Apatow et al).
Kristen Wiig is the standout figure in a film in which she starred and co-wrote the script (with Annie Mumolo). I remembered her from Whip It and she created an interesting character I could have followed through a more streamlined comedy drama. It was great but rather sad to see Jill Clayburgh as her mother in her last film. (Clayburgh was in some ways an iconic figure in the 1970s for her performance as An Unmarried Woman.) I also enjoyed seeing Chris O’Dowd though I couldn’t figure out why he was cast or how the narrative justified the inclusion of an Irish character. On the other hand, I was less happy to be confronted by Matt Lucas. Presumably there is some kind of mutual appreciation society involving US comedians from Saturday Night Live and UK comedy performers? Overall I thought that the SNL-style sketches in some scenes weren’t fully integrated with the larger narrative and I would have liked more exploration of the whole cake-making narrative thread
The film is shot in CinemaScope and the opening credits promise a specific location – Milwaukee or possibly Chicago. Yet the whole film appears to have been shot in California. Again, why? Comedies always work better for me when they are rooted in a recognisable community. I think that the producers missed a trick here.
Can we now have Ms Wiig as the star of a film directed and produced/photographed/scored by women? Drew Barrymore has shown she can do two of those roles.