A mystery, a melodrama, a prison film, and a love story, “Incendies’’ is foremost a scream at the madness of a society destroyed by religion and by men. Director Denis Villeneuve’s gripping drama shows us that rage has no expiration date.
The movie opens with one of the haunting images movies — of a young Arab boy having his head shaved in preparation for holy war, the camera tracking in on his unflinching eye. Where the film goes from there is unexpected, but in ambition and ferocity “Incendies’’ works mightily to match the power of that opening shot.
When they are called in to hear the reading of their mother's will, twins Jeanne and Simon are emotionless, almost bored with the proceedings. But it's only beginning. The will is the hook that will lead you into this devastating mystery thriller, which takes place in Quebec and an unnamed country that closely resembles Lebanon.
PlotThe last will and testament of Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal), a Montreal secretary, states she is to be buried as a shamed pauper: “Naked, no prayers, face down, away from the world.”
Two more shocks: Nawal wants her adult twin children Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) to deliver two sealed letters: one each to the father and brother they didn't know they had, whereabouts unknown.
So begins an odyssey that immerses Simon and Jeanne deep in a Middle Eastern past that their mother, never talked about — a past in which she bore a child out of wedlock, her disgrace catching her family up in a bloody chain of violence and retribution, with militant Christians and Muslims slaughtering each other in an unending cycle of revenge for past murders.
AnalysisThe source material for the movie is the play "Scorched" (2003) by Wajdi Mouawad, a Lebanese-born theater artist who emigrated to Quebec and then Montreal. The country isn't specified, but it's pretty clearly Lebanon, from which Wajdi and his family fled when he was a child. Director Villeneuve tells Nawal’s story in a way that is both subtle and emphatic.
Villeneuve reduces speeches to mere sentences while seeking the most potent visual equivalent for each scene -- such as Nawal's bus ride, where Muslim women and children is attacked and set fire by gun-toting members of a Christian militia, or the sight of a teenage sniper shooting children in the streets. Rather than coming right out and stating that violence begets violence, Villeneuve's approach invites the audience to find its own words.
Two performances are key. As Jeanne, the haunting Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin is ideal. she quietly, holds back to pull us forward into every scene to which her character pays witness. Nawal is portrayed by Lubna Azabal, who conceals so much behind war-ravaged eyes, she rivets the attention even without saying a word. The depth and complexity of her anger is both a product and a mirror of her native country’s self-destructive manner, and as the full horror of her life is disclosed, she becomes, in her children’s eyes and the audience’s, as grand and tragic heroine.
On one level, “Incendies” is an antiwar film like any other. The brutality of the conflict that took place in Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s is shown in stark, unflinching terms. And no one, neither Christian nor Muslim, is a hero. But the terms in which “Incendies” tells its harrowing yet strangely beautiful story are personal, not political, or in any way generic. There are no good guys or bad guys here, just people stuck in a vicious circle of violence.
“Incendies’’ often views the men of these women’s world through shots of their feet and hands, as if the they were bowing their head in fear. It’s a story about finally gathering the courage to stare evil in the face and obliterating it with love. Incendies is a shattering, cathartic, and a breathtaking film.
Incendies - Imdb