Incendies is a Canadian movie that was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language picture. It’s one of those movies that starts out where you have no idea what is going on. In fact for most of the movie you’re lost. I generally love those type of movies because it demands a second viewing where you’re not constantly orienting yourself to a cinematic world. Memento is one example of that type of storytelling, Twelve Monkeys is another.
But I will not watch Incendies again because the entire movie rests on a cheap, tawdry plot device. If you keep reading you will not see the movie either as I will spoil the secret upon which the plot’s entire house of cards rests. It is a shame that the filmmaker decided to frame the story on a shocking twist because Incendies puts you in an interesting world while featuring great acting and fine cinematography. But because of its desire to surprise all of its positive qualities are for naught.
Incendies tells the story of twins who attend a reading of their mother’s will. The will demands the twins to locate the father and brother they never knew they had. The twins go to their mother’s homeland and slowly discover her back story. She comes from a barbaric war-torn unnamed land that I assume is Lebanon. Their mother had a son she was forced to give away for adoption. The war scarred Mom into becoming a political assassin. She is put in jail where she is held for thirteen years before a torturer rapes her. This rape was how the twins were conceived, but the final twist is that the father and the brother the twins are searching for are in fact the same person. The torturer who raped their mother was also her son. And an even more amazing coincidence this father/brother moved to and lives in the same Canadian town as the twins.
I used to have the belief that foreign movies were a bastion for contemplation. Characters were explored in depths Hollywood refused to delve. But an Academy approved foreign movie dropping this bombshell at the end of the movie makes me question the pecking order of art forms. Shows on American television will have outlandish plot devices, but they take the time to explore how an insane plot point affects the character. In Mad Men Don Draper is revealed to be partaking in identity fraud, but over the course of the series we learn why he did it and how it affected him and the people around him. In Game Of Thrones there was incest aplenty, but the characters are fleshed out so it is not just done for shock, it is also part of the fabric of who the characters are.
By ending Incendies with the revelation of a terrible secret without showing the protagonists dealing with their brutal origin we are left wondering, what’s the point? And not in an existential thought provoking way, but rather what was the point of getting to know these characters for two hours and ending on a note where their lives are at the worst point a person could be at. It would be like splicing a naked eighty year old woman in the last few frames of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Sure it would be memorable, but it’s also random and exploitational.