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.