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

incendiesOne 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

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