Incendies (2010)

Release date: January 20, 2011
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Play by: Wajdi Mouawad
Screenplay by: Denis Villeneuve, Valérie Beaugrand-Champagne (Consultant)
Cast: Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxin Gaudette, Rémy Girard, Abdelghafour Elaaziz

Incendies was the Canadian selection for the last edition of the Academy Awards, so I was weary of it. Academy Award selections of foreign films tend to lean on the political side of a film, or sometimes it goes overboard with the melodrama.

The best way to describe the film is to say that it is a telenovela overlaid by a veil of political and religious unrest, with a twist that sets things in motion and makes the film horribly haunting. The whole film doesn’t rely on the twist, but I still feel divided on whether one should be aware of it or not — but those who’ve seen Oldboy know what I may be talking about.

Though, the twist in Oldboy made the film horrific and twisted in an unbelievable way, Incendies resembles a Greek tragedy a lot more, in that the characters are supposedly searching for a truth that may give them peace.

The film’s central character is Nawal Marwan (Azabal) a woman who dies after a sudden shock, and leaves two letters to her remaining twins, Jeanne (Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Gaudette). Each receive a labeled letters: one to their father, whom they thought was dead, and the other to their brother, whom they never knew existed.

Incendies never becomes a character study, as we begin unraveling the past to discover who Nawal Marwan really was. And that is the main problem. Jeanne and Simon are almost always the means for the audience to find out more about Nawal, and the end they are the victims. However, this lack of characterization never diminishes the political and religious layer in the film.

The acting is strong from both Azabal and her on-screen daughter, Désormeaux-Poulin, as they both have the most screen time. The use of silence worked a lot better than the semi-sequences with the strong rock soundtrack that got distracting, making Incendies look like a complete different film.

Though people have complained about the reasons for sending Marwan’s twins across the Middle East to avoid the pain of finding out the truth — and us of having a movie — one probably should also ask why Marwan would have needed to give her baby up in the first place. That’s the real catalyst of it all. If she had been left alone to live her life… well, there’d be no movie at all.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 


YAM Magazine editor, photographer, blogger, translator and part-time web designer. Film junkie, music junkie… and lately series (a.k.a. TV) junkie.

16 Responses

  1. Castor says:

    Been hearing great things about this movie and the premises seem intriguing. I’m waiting for Netflix to send it to me :)

    • amy says:

      @Castor, the only negative points I’ve read about it, is that people thought it should be more political… or at least, less telenovela.

      I really have no idea if these people have seen too many shocking films, or if they stick with arthouse. But I thought the film worked well for the most part.

  2. ghost says:

    The difference between this and Oldboy – besides everything except the twist – is that while Oldboy is shocking in a hard to believe way that puts the whole movie into focus, making you think how awful human beings can be when they want revenge. Incendies is just devastating because everything happens by chance for what other people have done to them.

  3. amy says:

    @ghost, I have to admit that it took me a few minutes to get the 1+1=1 thing, but looking back on the film and what the math professor said at the beginning, all variables make sense.

    It would be very hard to imagine something like Oldboy really happening (it’s hard to imagine, right???? I hope so, or it will just make me more depressed) – while Incendies is all the more plausible. That’s what is horrible about it… it could happen.

    • Juan Barquin says:

      @amy, that’s what I liked about it, almost everything in the movie is realistic. The only thing that’s pretty much based on coincidence is really the ending with the mother and the pool, etc etc.

  4. Juan Barquin says:

    So I wrote something really long on my blog earlier and I figured I’d go ahead and post it in the comments because HOORAY DISCUSSION!!!

    While I’ve only seen three out of five of last years Academy Award nominees for BP (this, Biutiful, and Dogtooth), I have to admit this was probably the best of the cut. Unlike Biutiful, which tries to hard to find beauty in nothing and slides off into unnecessary side-stories, it does a great job at handling more than one tale. interweaving it in the best of ways. It does fall into a bit of a lull at times in the latter half, but not often enough to take away from the impact of it. Lubna Azabal’s performance was seriously just marvelous and Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin does a damn fine job as well.

    Something I wasn’t a fan of, however, was the red chapter titles that popped up on occasion. Sure they looked cool against certain shots (especially the smoke), but I could have seriously done without them and thought they were entirely unnecessary.

    I was actually worried for a moment that things would lose momentum, but I was very impressed that the screenplay didn’t let it slip into something boring and expected in the +40 minutes that remain after the first reveal of the film (but it does lull a bit before you find out the big twist).

    You almost feel bad for knowing all this information before the twins find out to the point where you just want to attempt to discourage them from trying to discover such horrors, but there’s nothing we can do. As for the ending, I won’t lie and say it isn’t a bit too coincidental, but it doesn’t make it bad at all. Frankly, I really enjoyed it.

    Something that I personally loved was the way that Villeneuve shot the scene in which the twins embrace in the pool. If that isn’t the perfect way to symbolize the womb that the two came from – nothing is. There’s just something so simple, yet exquisitely crafted about that scene, that makes me love it.

    • amy says:

      @Juan Barquin, I only saw this and Biutiful – but i think I like this one even better than this year’s A Separation xD

      The red title chapters were as distracting as the rock music added sometimes, but the acting really makes up for it all. It’s really so sad that someone like Azabal’s performance wasn’t even considered for an actress nomination probably because it’s a foreign-language role, though.

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