Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
Original title: Cendres Et Sang
France/Romania/Portugal, 2009. Alfama Films, Arte France Cinema, Hirsch, DD Productions, Libra Film, Clap Filmes, Canal+, CineCinema, Centre National De La Cinematographie, Romanian National Center for Cinematography, Radiotelevisão Portuguesa. Screenplay by Fanny Ardant, based on the novel by Ismail Kadare. Cinematography by Gerard de Battista. Produced by Paulo Branco, Tudor Giurgiu. Production Design by Viorel Ghenea. Film Editing by Celia Lafitedupont.
Glamorous film star Fanny Ardant makes an assured directorial debut with this hypnotic tale of family vengeance. Years after her husband was murdered in front of their three children, Ronit Elkabetz (who is excellent) lives in Marseilles with her now grown offspring and far away from the highly ritualized customs and attitudes of her in-laws. The clan return to their origins when they are invited to a wedding back home, and bringing her two hotheaded sons and innocent, hearing-impaired daughter to a very old world (shot in Romania, though the place within the story is not specified) makes for a very dangerous situation.
Families whose vendettas and deeply entrenched codes of social behaviour are tensely getting along until modern thinkers have the effect of upsetting a hornet’s nest, and the film is devoted to the notion of creating this conflict to the point of lacking logic (it’s hard to really know why Elkabetz takes her kids back there to begin with); as a result the drama feels more than a little bit contrived. The strong characters are very compelling, as are images that are beautiful to the point of being ridiculous: Ardant directs with strength but there are times when it feels like she is reducing her characters to cultural stereotypes for the sake of a good shot. It has a rare quality to it that makes it worth seeing, an originality in its execution that makes it feel fresh despite its flaws, and Elkabetz is undeniably powerful.