Opening 23 Jun 2011
Writing credits: Denis Villeneuve, Wajdi Mouawad, Valérie Beaugrand-Champagne
Principal actors: Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette, Rémy Girard, Allen Altman
The opening scene of Incendies is impressive, with a beautifully photographed rock formation in soft morning light (camera André Turpin), accompanied by a women’s wailing song (score Grégoire Hetzel). This peaceful beginning is deceiving. The following 130 minutes offer confusion, plenty of violence and emotional challenges.
Without further explanation the camera moves to the Montreal lawyer Jean Lebel (Rémy Girard) reading the will of Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal), deceased mother of the young adult twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette). No wealth is to be distributed, but each one receives a letter stating a request to be met. The twins are puzzled and very upset with the task they have to fulfill. They have to find their father, whom they thought dead, and are ordered to search for their brother, of whose existence they had never heard before.
Jeanne journeys to the Middle East to look for her mother’s roots, which leads to the revelation of violent fights between Christians and Muslims, of massacres and brutal torture. As the film unfolds, an underlying tension remains throughout, and we are guided from present to past and back again. Simon, at first reacting cool, angry and distant to the reading of the will, reluctantly joins his sister in the quest of discovering their mother’s past. This is turning into a story of courage and frustration. They find out that she was a woman involved in political struggle, that she was a rape victim and survived the harsh prison conditions by monotonously singing to herself. After miraculously escaping to Canada, she had built a new life, successfully hiding the gruesome past from her children.
Director Denis Villeneuve based his script on Wajdi Mouawad’s theatre play Incendies (meaning “fires”) without specifying any country or blaming any particular party for the witnessed atrocities. It makes no difference whether to blame Muslims, Jews, Christians or Arabs. This high-quality film deals with the senselessness of violence which creates new violence, imposing ever more suffering on innocent people of an entire region. Through many twists the film moves towards a truly unexpected and extraordinary ending.
Incendies was Canada’s Academy Award® nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. (Birgit Schrumpf)