Few phrases in the film world promise more and deliver less than ‘Hot New Canadian Director.’ (‘Sundance Audience Award Winner’ comes close.) Just now, a bumper crop from north-of-the-border is being readied for prestige fall release spots, including a pair by Denis Villeneuve who earned stellar notices on this horrifying heart-tugger.* Told in parallel timelines, it follows a pair of Canadian twins who trek to the Middle-East as a condition of their mother’s will, hoping to uncover long buried family secrets. Their journey is interspersed with flashbacks to their mother’s dark past as unmarried mother; pawn in her country’s Christian/Muslim religious wars; rape victim; legendary prisoner; and guilt-ridden terrorist. The film draws you in at first, with its intriguing storyline & tragedies, along with Villeneuve’s fluid style that likes to jump a step or two ahead within scenes, a sort of agogic helming rhythm, along with a formal structure that functions as a scorecard to keep us clued-in. But the war atrocities begin to feel arbitrarily piled on in a melodramatic manner that doesn’t fit the subject matter. Worse is yet to come in a tricked-up surprise ending right out of left field . . . by way of CHINATOWN/’74. And you may already have tired of Villeneuve’s habit of staging the first half of his scenes in shadow, then moving into light as some small piece of the mother’s puzzle is answered.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Villeneuve’s two new films sound similarly over-freighted, and have been equally acclaimed as powerful dramas in pre-release ‘fest’ reviews. Hmm.