There’s been many movies and shows recently dealing with trauma and grief. But director Zarrar Kahn’s In Flames portrays those concepts in a way that is visually stunning and emotionally heart-wrenching. While I won’t spoil anything in this In Flames review, it’s a movie that will absolutely leave you wrecked and breathless, but in the best possible way. In Flames will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival 2023.
Please note: this In Flames review will be completely spoiler-free.
In Flames Is Premiering At TIFF 2023
The movie is the story of young Mariam (Ramesha Nawal), a medical student in Karachi, Pakistan trying to keep her family, and herself together during a tumultuous time in her life. After the death of her grandfather, Mariam and her mother Fariha (Bakhtawar Mazhar) struggle financially. During all of this, an incident further traumatizes Mariam, kick-starting a chain of events that seeks to devastate her present, but also bring back her past.
The story is impeccably written, also by Kahn, and so much of it is unsaid moments of grief, trauma and build-up that lead to such a satisfying reveal and climax. The movie is absolutely riveting going from plot point to plot point by engaging the audience every step of the way, but never at the expense of the individual moments that add to the tension of the dramatic events.
Impeccably Written, Performed And Directed
Writer-director Zarrar Kahn directs In Flames with such skill and masterful execution. And it’s not just directing the actors or certain shots, but everything combined together to create this atmosphere that is both breathtaking and dreadful in the context of the story. Kahn and cinematographer Aigul Nurbultova frame their shots just wonderfully and the transitions of certain scenes are absolute works of art.
Kahn and Nurboltova also are able to blend the surreal and abstract into a movie that is relatively dramatic. But they do it to further punctuate the emotional depths of what Mariam is feeling as she navigates this difficult time in her life. I was amazed at how the movie feels, and how it seamlessly blends the real and the abstract in a way that makes you question what you’re seeing all the way until the absolute end of the movie.
Personal side note— I am from Bangladesh, which was East Pakistani until 1971, so there are some similarities in the look and feel of the cities. The establishing sequences as Mariam travels through the city are gorgeous. The frantic manner in which they are shot, really makes you feel like you’re experiencing it firsthand. And the manic nature definitely adds to the tension and ambience of the story.
In Flames Review Is All About Shared Trauma
Ultimately In Flames is not at all what anyone may be expecting. The synopsis doesn’t do it justice, and neither can this In Flames review. Like the story of Mariam herself, it’s an experience that can be relatable, triggering and engulfing with its onslaught of emotions and grief. Nawal is a powerhouse of talent. She is able to do so much by saying so little. This is acting as its core, given that she doesn’t speak her emotions, but actually emotes them with very little dialogue.
Playing her mother, Mazhar is wonderful as well. Kahn allows both mother and daughter to share the story, as well as their pain. And Mazhar plays the typical Pakistani mother so effortlessly, while also getting her own moments to shine. Composer Kalaisan Kalaichelvan creates a haunting score and background music that elevates what’s happening on screen. Even the sound design of certain moments really stands out in a movie that takes its time in progressing the plot points and story. Honestly, almost everyone involved with In Flames does wonderful work that really makes this movie stand out for me in a festival already full of great films.
In Flames is premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival 2023.
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TIFF 2023: IN FLAMES Is A Gripping Tale About Surviving Emotional Trauma
- Acting - 10/1010/10
- Cinematography/Visual Effects - 9/109/10
- Plot/Screenplay - 9.5/109.5/10
- Setting/Theme - 8.5/108.5/10
- Watchability - 9.5/109.5/10
- Rewatchability - 8.5/108.5/10