The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

One of the best movies this year (as long as you’re not on a date)

with 15 comments

One hour into the movie, they took a unanimous decision. On a given signal, the party of four stood up from their seats, grabbed their still half full bowls of popcorn and soda and marched out.

I can’t say that it came as a surprise to me. If someone asked me for a suitable Friday night movie for teenagers on a double date, Incendies would be about the last I’d think of suggesting.

To me it seemed like a wise choice to man up and admit that it was a bad movie decision and go out and look for something else to do, rather than to fall into sulking or possibly worse – chatting and thus destroying the experience for everyone else. The ticket cost was already lost, but they cut their time loss. Good for them.

However they only had my attention for about half a second. Then I was pulled back into what happened on the screen, because Incendies is that kind of movie. It grabbed me from the start and it kept me in a tight grip, not only through the entire movie, but long afterwards. Images have kept popping up in my head all through the weekend. Perfectly aware of that it’s all fiction, that the characters in it don’t exist for real, I can’t quite get them out of my head. They haunt me. Their destinies haunt me.

Mystery and war
To be honest I hadn’t quite expected this as I read about the plot.

A woman, dies in Canada, leaving two letters to her son and daughter, letters to be delivered to their until now unknown brother and their father, who as opposed to what they assumed, seems to be alive. To find them, they have to go back to an undefined Middle-East country (resembling to Lebanon) and piece by piece put together a puzzle, folding up the story of her life that their mother never told them.

Doesn’t sound too exciting, does it? Especially if you like me aren’t all that interested in war movies or Middle-East politics. But oh, how it pulled me in.

One reason is obviously the detective story element. There is a mystery to be solved, and I don’t know if I’m particularly slow or stupid or something, but I never went ahead of the story as it was unfold, figuring out what was going to happen on beforehand.  I was questing along with the twins, never running ahead of them (more than a few inches here and there, since the story also is told with glimpses from the life of their mother, parallel with their search, and sometimes one perspective runs ahead of the other for a short while.) Every twist in the film – and there are several – took me with the surprise that was intended.

But the riddle is only a part of the movie. As much as we’re looking for the father and the brother, we’re watching the ugly consequences of war, what it makes people turn into. It’s not a war movie in the sense that we see generals and bombings and tanks. It’s worse. It’s all so much closer. We see torture, murder, violence – cruel, meaningless and merciless, raging like fires (“fires” is also the meaning of the French title “Incendies” ), and it gets to me. Oh, how it gets to me. And yet, on a different plane, it’s not a movie about what it was like to be in Lebanon during the war. It’s not a history lesson; it’s a story as timeless as a play by Shakespeare or Sophocles.

Early on there was a very strong scene that made me nauseous and after that, it only got worse. Sure, if I tried really hard, I could spot a ray of light. There’s an underlying peace-and-love message, and perhaps also something about forgiving the unforgivable, about coping with your destiny. About necessity of finding your roots in the process of becoming an adult.

But there’s no hiding from that this is a hardcore tragedy, and obviously that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Some people go to movies to get a thrill, a laugh, an escape and some entertainment. This is not a movie for them, as little as it’s a dating move.

Incendies left me emotionally devastated. As I made my way home in the dark night, I urged for company, laughter, light and a single malt whisky – anything to reset my faith in humanity before I would even consider trying to go to sleep.

And yet, while it made me feel awful, this was one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.

It sounds weird when I think of it. Why does misery attract me? Why don’t I just stick to the fun ones? And I can’t tell for sure. Maybe it’s got to do with the fact that the shadows and the darkness in life won’t disappear just because you pretend it’s not there. You need to throw a glance at them once in a while, give them some attention, or they’ll just keep growing until they’re out of control. Like raging fires.

Incendies (Villeneuve, CA, 2010) My rating: 5/5

Written by Jessica

August 16, 2011 at 1:00 am

Posted in Incendies

15 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I tend to avoid films I have to read, which sadly only leaves me scandinavian and english-speaking films to choose from. I guess I feel like I miss out on too much when I don’t understand what the actors are saying and have to keep reading the subtitles.

    But maybe I can overcome my aversion for this one.


    August 16, 2011 at 10:09 am

    • I can understand your reluctancy, but at the same time I think it’s also a matter of habit. It’s an obstacle, but the more you try it, the less will it bother you.

      If you’re thinking about watching this movie, the title has been translated, so in Swedish it’s “Nawals hemlighet” (Nawal’s secret). I’m not sure if it’s a better name than the original. Perhaps a little bit clearer. But again, what would be a “good” title? I honestly don’t know. The more I think about it, the more difficult does it seem to me, the task to give titles to movies.


      August 16, 2011 at 10:18 am

      • Seems my local cinema won’t be showing it, I will have to find a theatre in another town 😦

        Naming (and translating names) movies must be difficult indeed sometimes. Unless you stick to making sequels – you only need to stick a new number on every subsequent film! And do you remember poor Mel Brooks and Goldie Hawn, whose movies always were translated into “Det våras för something or other” and “Tjejen som something or other”. Lazy translators there!


        August 16, 2011 at 11:56 am

        • Oh yes, that was silly. Especially the idea to name Goldie Hawn movies as if they were a series, while it actually wasnt… Weird. I don’t think I’ve seen it in a while though. Fewer and fewer titles get translated, at least that’s my impression.

          I don’t think Incendies is a blockbuster so to say. But if nothing else, watch out for it when it’s on DVD.


          August 16, 2011 at 12:36 pm

  2. Tragedy is formidably powerful. However much one laughs to “Merry Wives of Windsor” or “Midsummer Night’s Dream” it is “Hamlet”, “Romeo and Juliet”, and “King Lear” that have the greatest hold upon the heart.

    So I don’t think it sounds weird at all, it sounds very human.

    Lewis Maskell

    August 16, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    • Yes, I suppose we’ve been telling those stories this since the dawn of mankind. It’s a need we have, our way of processing and dealing with our uglier sides and coping with what it means to be a human being.


      August 16, 2011 at 3:05 pm

  3. The Greeks called what you experienced “catharsis,” and believed that in experiencing tragedy one purged one’s self of those negative feelings, allowing the individual to return to a happier existence. While you feel worse at the conclusion of the event, you’ve then exorcized those feelings to make more room for joy and celebration.

    Personally, I find music and poetry to be cathartic. And, yes, I do appreciate the occasional tragic movie. It is what I might term a “guilty pleasure,” since I would only allow myself to wallow in the comfort of my own home, near a box of tissues.

    Not that I’ve ever cried. The tissues are there, um, just in case. 😉


    August 16, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    • Awww. But tearing up in the theatre is perfectly fine. Try it, you’ll see. If it’s not an incredibly quiet film you’re watching, noone will see you. And to hear an occasional sniffing from the audience somehow brings a bit of comfort.

      Actually there have been moments when I’ve felt the urge to cry for other reasons but been unable to. Movies and books are wonderful on those occasions, helping to release tears that have stuck up and need an outlet. Healthcare for the soul.


      August 16, 2011 at 3:09 pm

  4. Definitely one of the best films of the year! A profound, gut-wrenching experience. It’s masterfully constructed by Villeneuve and left me emotionally shaken for a long time afterwards.

    Andrew Buckle

    August 23, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    • Yeah, it’s just sad to see that it’s not very much spoken about. I think people might be a little bit put off by the description of it…. Someone travelling to the Middle-east to look for their roots… doesn’t sound all that thrilling tbh. I wish there was a better way to convey it, to show how engaging it actually is – and totally accessable for anyone, not just for people who are into small, strange, art house movies.


      August 23, 2011 at 5:23 pm

  5. […] 2. Incendies A tragedy that grabbed me all way through. […]

  6. Thanks for the tip on this one. It got my attention when I saw it was directed by Villeneuve who did Polytechnique which I found beatiful (in black and white), moving and quite sad. But I wasn’t if his new one was worth catching in the cinema. Now I’ll try and see it while it’s still shown.


    September 5, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    • Please go ahead! I’m looking forward to seey your take on it. I haven’t seen it much around in reviews in the blogosphere for some reason. Maybe it hasn’t come up in all that many countries.
      Anyway – I thought it was fantastic.


      September 5, 2011 at 9:06 pm

  7. […] 3. Incendies “As I made my way home in the dark night, I urged for company, laughter, light and a single malt whisky – anything to reset my faith in humanity before I would even consider trying to go to sleep. […]

  8. […] som har sett Nawals hemlighet. Bland de filmbloggar jag följer kan jag bara hitta recensioner hos The Velvet Café och Movies – Noir. Till er andra säger jag: se filmen! Det blir inte mer filmmagi, mer […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: