Sunday, May 13

Even in Chinatown, nothing means more than being together.

There's a study that came out recently, about how the knowledge of "spoilers" don't really lessen the enjoyment out of watching movies or reading books, and that it even enhances the experience. 

While that is true of certain viewing fare, these days, I like being surprised. I show up in front of the theater at the appointed time. I don't check out reviews, and sometimes I know only the vaguest of details. (Like: "It's by Joss Whedon. Should be good. Though some poor girl is probably going to be in for a bender. Sure, let's go." Or: "Hugh Jackman in a wifebeater, with robots. Okay, count me in.") 

Same thing goes for home viewings. In honor of Mothers Day, I thought I'd watch a movie celebrating the occasion. I was going to pop in Beaches, then came across Incendies. I vaguely remember a friend raving about it, something about the story of a mother and her children, and enough for me to put in on queue in Transmission. 

So the movie begins with a twin brother and a sister having their late mother's will read to them by their mother's boss, a notary for whom she has served as a secretary. In order to bury her properly, the siblings must go back to the land of their mother's birth, an unnamed Middle Eastern country. The boy thinks it's bollocks; the girl decides to go and fulfill the mother's wishes. With a set up like this, we know that we are going to discover things about the mother's past, and it's probably not going to be pleasant. 

We follow the daughter's journey back to her mother's homeland. When she gets to each pit stop in search of her mother's past, we also get a flashback revealing pieces of the mother Nawal Marwan's history. It's interesting that her daughter Jeanne was made to be a mathematician. In pure mathematics, there is no space for the 'maybe.'  Everything is knowable, and has to be boiled down to the simplest  expression possible.  A statement: 1 + 1 = 2. The language of numbers is that of clarity and certainty:  1 + 1 =/= 1. There is no other way about it.  All the way to the very end, when everything has been revealed, it boils down to that simple statement. 

Nawal Marwan's family history is heartbreaking. The mother's boss, the last of a long line of notaries starting from the 18th century, tells the boy about a man who led parallel lives. The man had three wives, eight children in three different cities where he lived and did business. "That was fun, believe me," the notary said. "Death is never the end of the story. It always leaves tracks behind." It is old school tragedy, with deaths and murders in an epic scale. 

The one bright spot--if it can be called that--are the letters left behind by the mother. "Nothing means more than being together," she writes from her grave. People survive, which only makes it worse, as they have to live with the knowledge and the consequences of their discovery. But that is also why it is so effective: the viewer does not leave unscathed, she shares the burden of discovery. But in the end she can walk away: "Hey, just think of the awkward family reunions. At least it didn't happen to me." 

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