Sarah 43, Death Race 13; 19 of 24 categories completed
…Wow. How to describe Incendies without giving away anything. How to describe it, period, really, but I will try not to tip anything here (if you'd like to discuss plot points in the comments, spoil away).
It's gripping, immediately. I arrived at the screening late, but had no trouble catching up and getting into the flow; it's got an excellent ear for its story, in terms of pacing and how it uses sound and Foley design, and it unfolds at a satisfying speed. Pieces of the central mystery get solved at the proper intervals, and it's a pleasure to look at. I reached the same conclusion as Jeanne about what "1+1=1" meant, at about the same time, and the shock is serious and awful, but from a narrative standpoint it's almost enjoyable, because the road to it is built so well.
With that said, I prefer Biutiful — not by much, and it comes down to taste, but I have a couple problems with the casting. First, once it becomes clear who he is and you go back over the math (as it were), Abdelghafour Elaaziz does not look old enough for it to work. The arithmetic barely works vis-à-vis his coming to the prison. It's not a huge discrepancy, and I would have to see the film again to graph it out, but under the circumstances, it's best that nobody be second-guessing the numbers afterwards, no?
The second issue is with Lubna Azabal, or perhaps with the direction she received, in the Nawal role. Almost every reaction is staring: grief, rage, shock, it's all staring and the odd gulp for effect. The movie asks us then to believe that this verve-free specimen of glowering became a legendary prisoner, remembered by her jailers as unbreakable to the end of her sentence. She's intelligent and stubborn, sure, but to survive what she survives, you need something else, and the audience needs to see that something — if for no other reason than to point up the moment at which she snaps. Maybe it's the writing, maybe it's the coaching, I don't know, but I pitied the character without liking her much or finding her very real.
That the movie grabbed me as hard as it did in spite of spending so much time with a character/actress I didn't connect with says a lot for it. It's really something; definitely see it when it comes to your town or Netflix. I don't think it beats Biutiful, but it could, and I wouldn't have a problem with it. I think it's between those two for Best Foreign.
Tags: Abdelghafour Elaaziz Incendies Lubna Azabal movies Oscars 2011 Death Race