Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Written by Denis Villeneuve based on a play by Wajdi Mouawad
A very beautifully shot film BUT IT IS NOT VERY PLEASANT. Children are not safe in this movie, so… there’s your trigger warning.
I went in knowing nothing at all about this movie except that it’s on my list and in another language. To find a copy I went to the Aro St Video Shop website and used their online order/courier service. So much more convenient than driving to Aro St (goodness I’m lazy this time of year).
I like French films. I do. But this was not a standard French film. It’s about Jeanne and Simon, Canadian adult twins who… at the reading of their mother’s will discover that they have a brother. Their mother asks them to track down their lost brother in the Middle East, (inspired by war torn Lebanon although it is fictionalised). Simon is reluctant so Jeanne goes alone, travelling to places her mother had been as a younger woman.
The story is told in a tangled timeline of short chapters, some in flashback to Nawal as a young woman, some in the present, some explaining missing links. As family histories go it’s a doozy, with some genuinely shocking and painful scenes.
The setting and the events are fictionalised, but show a very realistic and not far from the truth (I’m sure) account of hostilities between Christian and Muslim communities in the Middle East. Orphanages are burned, men, women and children shot and Nawal is raped, although this last is discussed in some detail it thankfully happens off screen.
It’s a very hard movie to watch, although exceptionally well made and beautifully shot.
The story of Nawal as ‘the woman who sings’, staying resolute through her 15 years of incarceration is rather inspiring, in a sort of horrible, V for Vendetta way. Although it was heart wrenchingly horrible to watch the scene in which she first starts to sing to drown out the screaming of a woman being tortured. Urgh.
Thre is a recurring motif of water. Nawal suffers a stroke at the start at the swimming pool. When Jeanne is upset, she swims, later joined by her twin Simon when he joins in her search. Then we see that as babies they should have been drowned, but were saved by a kindly nurse. It’s an easy metaphor for returning to the womb, but also cleansing – submerging oneself in water to wash away the pain. I rather felt like a submerging myself after watching this film. It’s bleaaaak.
Does it make me love the people? Yes. I found myself very invested in Jeanne and Simon’s stories. The extreme situations Nawal was in served (for me) to distance her, but I did feel for her as well, especially when she spotted her long lost son.
Bechdel test: Very early on there’s a lengthy exchange between Nawal and her grandmother, but her grandmother isn’t named, she’s credited as ‘Nawal’s Grandmother’. I honestly don’t remember if Nawal and Jeanne speak directly… Jeanne talks to her when she’s gone absent/had a stroke but Nawal doesn’t respond, and Nawal ‘speaks’ to Jeanne in her letter, but that’s read, rather than a conversation.
Nawal certainly talks to the nurse who delivers her babies, but again the nurse is credited just as ‘nurse’.
I don’t know. Does the letter count? I don’t think it does.
Notary Jean Lebel: Death is never the end of the story. It always leaves tracks.
Nawal (via Will): When does your story begin?
State of Mind: Kind of traumatised 😦 Like, it wasn’t as graphic as Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, and it wasn’t as nasty as The Deer Hunter, or as tense and suspenseful as Zero Dark Thirty, but… it was reminiscent of all those. I don’t think I’ll be watching this one again.