Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Produced by: Luc Déry, Kim McCraw
Screenplay by: Denis Villeneuve, Valérie Beaugrand-Champagne
Based on: Incendies by Wajdi Mouawad
Cast: Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette, Rémy Girard, Abdelghafour Elaaziz, etc.
Music by: Grégoire Hetzel
Cinematography: André Turpin
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
INCENDIES (2010) is the probably the best film you haven’t seen. If you have seen it then tell more people to see it. Spread the word on this incredible film. I watched Incendies (2010) for the first time a few years ago and it has stayed with me ever since. Given the lack of recent cinema releases, I felt compelled to watch it again and once more was blown away by the power of the characters and their stories. Not quite old enough to review as a classic movie, and as it stands as at No. 111 on the IMDB 250, it doesn’t qualify as an under-rated classic, I have therefore filed this contemporary classic under films that got away.
Based on a play by Wajdi Mouawad, Incendies (2010) was developed by Denis Villeneuve, who took five years developing and writing the screenplay. Villeneuve was attracted to the play because it was a modern story with Greek tragedy at its heart. It is set in both Canada and in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, with events in the narrative traversing between the these countries and different time periods. While the country where most of the action takes place is unnamed, given Mouawad is Lebanese, it is safe to say that this complex tale unfolds during the Lebanese Civil War. However, it is a masterstroke not to be specific about setting, as this ensures it is not place and politics one focusses on, but the thought-provoking human drama. And what drama it is!
After starting with a haunting scene from the past showing bedraggled children herded into an orphanage, the story quickly moves to the present. Twins, (Jeanne Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon Marwan (Maxim Gaudette) meet Jean (Remy Girard), a notary handling their deceased mother’s will. Their mother, Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal), has left two letters – one for the twin’s brother, and another for their father. If they can locate them and give them the letters, Nawal will allow her children to bury her with a casket and headstone. Jeanne, the calmer of the two siblings, agrees to the request. However, Simon is angry that secrets were kept and is against taking it any further.
Incendies (2010) then becomes two powerful narratives intertwined to structural perfection by Villeneuve and Valérie Beaugrand-Champagne’s exceptional screenplay. Firstly, we follow Jeanne as she travels to Daresh, in the Middle East, attempting to follow in Nawal’s footsteps. Here the film becomes a compelling detective story as Jeanne (and later in the film, Simon) slowly discovers her mother’s tragic life history before she moved to Canada. Running parallel to this the narrative flashes back to show Nawal’s life as she escapes village life to go to University, only for religious civil war to tear the fabric of the country apart. Villeneuve, who has subsequently directed many visually stunning big budget films, makes the most of the sun-scorched and battle-scarred landscapes. Moreover, he also delivers a stunning and suspenseful sequence when Nawal finds herself trapped on a bus surrounded by soldiers.
I genuinely do not want to say anymore about the plot of Incendies (2010), for fear of spoiling what is such a complex and well designed story. It drives me mad when I watch films or television shows and they gratuitously use flashbacks or fractured temporal structures to create mystery. Because what many ultimately do is confuse the audience and create emotional distance from the characters. Villeneuve directs in an intelligent way, retaining empathy and emotion for both protagonists and antagonists devoured by war. Nawal Marwan’s story is especially heart-breaking and she is given a moving portrayal by Lubna Azabal. Nawal’s story is one of astounding power as the character experiences the hell of loss, war, torture and death. Her final attempt at redemption from beyond the grave gives us a searing human drama. One which will shake you to the core for days and weeks and maybe even years.