In contemporary Canada, when Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azawal) dies, she is survived by her twin adult children, Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette). Among her requests, the most unusual is one to deliver two sealed envelopes, one by each of the twins to their father and their brother respectively. However, their father as they know passed away years earlier during the war in the Middle East (where Nawal was raised) and they have no knowledge of any other offspring. Simon sees this as further indication that his mother was crazy but Jeanne wants to respect her mother's final wishes, which means finding out who their real father is and who this unknown brother is. As Jeanne goes on her quest with what little information she has on hand, she finds a history filled with turmoil. Eventually, Simon reluctantly joins her, as they piece together their mother's past and thus their own history.
Review by Louise Keller:
This is a heart wrenching film that feels a bit like a double barrel shotgun: one barrel is loaded with unspeakable things, the other with beauty and purity. The journey is powerful, at times tortuous but richly satisfying and strangely uplifting even when we think all is lost. If it sounds as though I'm talking in riddles, it is because this is a story about secrets and these secrets are best discovered the way they were intended - by embarking on the journey within the film.
Canadian director Denis Villeneuve's Academy Award nominated drama, which he has adapted from Wajdi Mouawad's play is an epic tale in which birth, death, love and hate play adjacent roles. It is the story of a mother's unconditional love and the extraordinary lengths to which a mother will go for the love of her children. Elevating the stakes are the contributing elements of its Middle Eastern nexus, conflicts involving religion, discrimination, revenge and empowerment.
It's an intensely personal story with towering scale and resonance and one that crosses continents, language, race and beliefs. It flickers rhythmically from the present to the past and back again, like the rumbling of an army tank that promises to save as well as destroy. There are revelations, stumbling blocks, ironies, strange juxtapositions, heartbreak and emotion almost too great to bear as Canadian twins Jeanne and Simon Marwan (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette) retrace their mother's steps in a foreign land to find their father and their brother. Their journey begins with a black and white photo.
Shot in Jordan, the Middle Eastern setting of the story is purposely non specific to avoid putting emphasis where it should not be. Lubna Azabal is haunting as Nawal Marwan, the story's central character and whose journey we follow. As Jeanne and Simon follow the leads to discover the story about The Woman Who Sings, the boy with three dot-tattoos on his ankle, the warlord with a long memory and a torture specialist with a memorable name, they are well on the way to learning the shocking and painful truth. After all, as we discover, death is never the end of the story. The fact that we realize the truth about two key revelations before we are actually told the facts adds monumentally to its emotional impact. Music is used in an effective and unusual way with a muffled and syncopated effect to accentuate the rawness of our emotions.
Bitter sweet and painfully joyous, Incendies is an unforgettable film and one that will linger somewhere in the crevices of the mind. Its imagery stays sharp and raw, burning its messages. Les Incendies is the French word for raging fires.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
An unforgettable story superbly told, Incendies is adapted from a play (by Wajdi Mouawad) but you'd never know it. Indeed, so adroit is the adaptation that it's hard to imagine how it could be a play, given its geographical settings and its time frames. The story springs from the nature of conflict and how wars ignite fires that burn out of control.
In this case - although the film avoids pinpointing it to be able to deal with its own dynamics instead of the setting - it's the tragic multifaceted Lebanese civil war (1975 - 1990) shattering hundreds of thousands of lives. The war and what it's about, while crucial to the story, is not the subject matter, strange as it may seem. What it's about is life; a mother's unconditional love for her children, her dying wish to gather them all into her bosom despite the most horrendous odds and wretched event. And it's about how death is not the end but an event to teach us about life.
Lubna Azawal is outstanding as Nawal, who we first meet as a young woman in forbidden love with a man; the tragic traditions of family honour (a misnomer if ever there was one for honour killings) launch her life into a new trajectory. She is pregnant and alone but she survives. Then things get worse.
We discover pieces of her story as we follow her adult twins on a search for a brother they didn't know about and a father they thought had died. These were instructions in her will and they send her children into the past that's charred with the fire of hatred as well as amazing courage.
Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin delivers a wonderfully touching performance as the daughter Jeanne. But in the film's only false note - an error of casting judgement - Maxim Gaudette plays her twin Simon, genetically at odds with the story as a young man who could have no Middle East genes in his DNA. However, his performance, if muted, is splendid.
The structure of the film perfectly suits the story and the subject matter as it takes us back and forth in time and in place, revealing personal histories that grow more and more exceptional with each new turn. Denis Villeneuve directs with a sinewy sensitivity, using the camera to best advantage to give cinematic life to the places and the characters. All the creative departments excel in a collaboration that rightly earned the film accolades, including a nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film Award in 2011 (the Oscar went to In A Better World).
Incendies carries a mighty payload of emotions and leaves powerful resonances in its wake.
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CAST: Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette, Remy Girard, Abdelghafour Elaaziz, Allen Altman, Mohamed Altman, Mohamed Majd, Nabil Sawahla, Beya Belal
PRODUCER: Luc Dery, Kim McCraw,
DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve
SCRIPT: Denis Villeneuve (play by Wajdi Mouawad)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Andre Turpin
EDITOR: Monique Dartonne
MUSIC: Gregoire Hetzel
PRODUCTION DESIGN: André-Line Beauparlant
RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 21, 2011