Twins journey to the Middle East to discover their family history and fulfill their mother’s last wishes.
“Incendies” is a Canadian-French film directed by Denis Villeneuve, released in 2010. The movie is adapted from the play of the same name by Wajdi Mouawad.
The film tells the story of a pair of twins, Jeanne and Simon, who are tasked with delivering two letters to their long-lost father and brother, respectively, in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. As they uncover the truth about their family’s past, they are confronted with the atrocities committed during the country’s civil war.
The movie was critically acclaimed and received numerous awards, including eight Genie Awards and an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. The film’s themes of war, family, and identity have resonated with audiences around the world.
Tragedy, Turmoil & Torment...
There are secrets to be uncovered now she has passed, the undiscovered stories, that she’d amassed, a father and a brother, you didn’t know, could there be others, it’s time to lift the bedrock, of the past. You make a visit to a country, in the east, where friction, conflict, war, chaos, have seldom ceased, walking footsteps left in shadow, as you plough a lonely furrow, a record slowly forming, piece by piece. You discover revelations, tragedy; events of circumstance and shocking gravity, an uncontrived coincidence, implications beyond immense, that point to why your mother had to run and flee.
One of the best films you’ll come across, brilliantly directed and performed, heart wrenching and packed full of emotion and turmoil.
To be honest, there is nothing left to say story-wise after this film. The tragedy, atmosphere and everything…
As an admirer of Dennis Villeneuve’s filmography thanks to his work in past years, I was already familiar with how much of a brilliant storyteller he is. Yet, Incendies is no different. Beautifully structured script, visuals, soundtrack…
Lastly, the intro, along with Radiohead’s “You and Whose Army?” is probably the one of the best I’ve ever witnessed easily.
Powerful, gripping plot with great direction and acting
Incendies (2010) is a Canadian film that was co-written and directed by Denis Villeneuve. The movie stars Lubna Azabal as Nawal Marwan, “The Woman Who Sings.” In the opening of the film we learn that Nawal has just died, leaving some unusual instructions for her two children in her will.
Then, there’s a flashback, where we learn that Nawal, as a teenager, has given birth to an out-of-wedlock infant. The rest of the plot follows from those two starting points.
Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin portrays Jeanne Marwan, and Maxim Gaudette portrays her twin, Simon Narwam. Désormeaux-Poulin has the larger role, and she is superb. Lubna Azabal is equally good as Nawal.
The plot involves a quest journey, and the quest is achieved. However, for me the point of the movie wasn’t whether or not the mystery would be solved. The point was to see that war–especially sectarian war–causes immense suffering to everyone involved.
This isn’t a feel-good film. Yes–we know the answers in the end. However, except for one powerful scene involving a nurse, there’s no joy or happiness for anyone. That makes the movie hard to watch, but it’s so powerful that it’s worth watching anyway.
The movie worked well on DVD. It has an incredible IMDb rating of 8.3. (This may be the highest rated film that I’ve ever reviewed.) I thought it was even better than that, and rated it 10.
One word: INCREDIBLE!
Initially, the film can be a bit confusing due to them continually jumping back in time. Once you get the hang of it, though, and get to know the characters, it is easy enough to follow.
This is essentially two films in one: the story of a mother searching for the son she had to give up at birth, and a story about twins searching for their father, and a brother they never knew they had. The film takes us on an incredible journey filled with action, suspense, drama, and more than just a few twists.
‘Incendies’ effectively illustrates the horrors of war, and killings in the name of religion. What an absolutely fantastic script. This is one of the most amazing films I’ve seen in a while.
A stunning and powerful thriller
Want to see where one of the modern era’s hottest directing streaks started? If you do, then Incendies in the film for you.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve, who went from this French/Canadian co-production to move onto Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival and last year’s brilliant sequel Blade Runner 2049, Incendies is the Oscar nominated film that put Villeneuve on the path he finds himself on now and remains a film of substantial power these years on from initial release.
Adapted from Wajdi Mouawad’s play of the same name, Incendies is a multi-layered narrative that spans both numerous countries and numerous characters over various timelines but Villeneuve controls his film perfectly as the mystery that lays at the heart of this tale about family, war, life and death never gets muddled as we’re drawn further and further into a film that wraps us up in its web and refuses to let us go.
There’s not the abundance of filmmaking and visual flair that Villeneuve has started to become known for over his more recent Hollywood productions but Incendies power comes almost exclusively from Villeneuve’s deft hand with his performers, his handling of a script that other filmmakers would struggle to bring to life and his ability to slowly ebb out more information as we go, that by the time we come to realise just what lays in store for the films characters, the power of Incendies becomes even more apparent.
Saying to much about this story would be a disservice to a film that takes many various turns and pivots. Essentially at its core, a story of both twins Jeanne and Simon Marwan trying to uncover the secret of their father they’ve never met and find a brother they never knew they had after their Middle Eastern born mother Nawal passes away, Incendies becomes so much more than a typical family drama as it showcases time in the conflict of the Israeli and Palestinian Holy Wars, as well as the twins journey back to their country of nationality.
The film in many ways showcases a different side to Villeneuve and proves the director is just as at home handling a $150 million plus Sci-Fi for a major Hollywood studio as he is behind the camera of a small intimate drama that is driven purely by its narrative and characters. Proof the filmmaker is a man of many talents and a director to be cherished by those that love cinema.
Final Say –
For any fans of Villeneuve’s work, world cinema or powerful character driven dramas, then Incendies should be a film you seek out as soon as possible. Losing none of its power since its initial release, this sometimes hard to watch but always enthralling film is standout filmmaking and the official blasting off point for one of the modern era’s great filmmakers.
5 swimming pools out of 5
A Nutshell Review: Incendies
The film begins in sweeping slow motion, centered around a harsh cemented premises with a bunch of boys undergoing the shaving of their hair ala military fashion, with the camera centered on one boy possessing this crazed looking eyes, before cutting to Canada where twins Jeanne and Simon Marwan (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette respectively) arrive at a notary’s office to accept the will of their recently deceased mother Nawal (Lubna Azabal), where they are left with letters to deliver to a father and brother that they do not know. In the meantime, they are to bury their mother in a certain strange way until their quest has been completed, with the notary Jean Lebel (Remy Girard), Nawal’s boss the last few years, ensuring that her last will and testament is completed the way it was intended.
Incendies, based upon the play Scorched written by Wajdi Mouawad and adapted for the screen by director Denis Villeneuve, was this year’s Best Foreign Language Film nominee from Canada, and there’s every reason why it was a nomination well deserved. Set against a mystery to be unraveled so slowly, bringing together seemingly disparate events together in shocking fashion by the time we’re through, the narrative is split into two different timelines, with the current one being the twins’ journey to an unnamed Middle Eastern country in search for clues to their unknown father and brother, while with each milestone achieved of sorts, we get to see a flashback to the time of their mother, brought up in a harsh environment involving the staining of family honour, as well as religious zealots and militants who set her off in a tale of an avenging angel, and sacrifice.
And the story sprawls in many directions, though with Villeneuve always having an assured hand in not having this fall into melodramatic terms nor have any wasted scenes, highlighting issues that still exist to this very day involving hatred, revenge and forgiveness, but not before laying down a number of surprises that will shake you to the core especially when the mysterious equation finally gets solved – you may get a hint of what’s to come, but this got handled so expertly without being verbatim, that it accentuates and compounds the myriad of complex emotions felt by all the characters involved.
With sweeping cinematography that’s achingly beautiful to gaze at, one of the best scenes involve the brutal, cold blooded mass murder where militants spray countless of rounds into a packed bus, culminating in that shot of a burning bus shrouded in thick black smoke against an endless sandy environment, with Nawal finally snapping into making a decision to take matters into her own hands from then on. Between the two stories, perhaps it is Nawal’s painful journey that makes this compelling viewing, from having her lover forcefully and terminally separated from her by family during her teens, then her volunteering and sacrifice leading to imprisonment and ill treatment within as punishment. What she did as part of reconciliation is in part a masterstroke in inflicting inexplicable pain in return to her perpetrator, is what made this film a winner, although it will stun you into silence well after the end credits roll from the devastation the narrative left in its wake.
The other half of the narrative deals with Jeanne and Simon’s journey to dig through unwritten laws, and reluctance of tightly knit communities that prefer to keep the status quo and not dwell and reopen wounds inflicted from their collective shameful past, some in denial, while others happy to have seen a more favourable outcome from Nawal’s hardships. It is this piecing together of the mystery like an investigative drama that makes Incendies unique, and what more, Radiohead also features in the soundtrack – strange but true, and very powerful if you ask me.
Comparing the ratings between this film at M18 and Womb at R21 reveals what the censors allow and not allow when dealing with more mature themes, likely centered around the intention of its more controversial scenes. It’s anyone’s guess why was was given the highest rating possible, and the other one rung lower, given that both actually didn’t have anything explicit, except perhaps one was used as an unintentional weapon of torture and destruction in the psychological sense, while the other was a love story gotten out of control! Still, for its strong story and excellent production values, Incendies becomes that must watch film in 2011, especially during this season of noisy summer action blockbusters that absolutely don’t resonate as much as this film. Highly recommended!
Our Love Became a Funeral Pyre
When people watch the Oscars, they don’t usually care about the Best Foreign Film nominees. Incendies provides so many reasons why people should actually get to see those nominees at all costs. Incendies is the kind of film that one walks away from feeling emotionally drained, one where it stays in the viewer’s mind for days on end. Like an intense personal experience, it takes a lot to come to grips with the film’s story, a moving plot full of twists and catharsis. At the New Directors/New Films Festival in New York, at which I saw this last night, Denis Villeneuve explained that he has made four films in Canada, but this is the first one to be released in America. Right now, I see no reason why Villeneuve, or any of the actors for that matter, shouldn’t have a great future ahead of them.
Based on the play Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad, Incendies follows a non-linear plot that spans two generations. In the present day, Jeanne and Simon are twins who have lost their mother, Nawal. Nawal has stipulated in her will that Jeanne and Simon must return an envelope to the brother they didn’t know existed who is currently living in a fictional Middle Eastern country. Only then can the twins give Nawal a proper burial. Jeanne feels obligated to return the letter, so she goes to the Middle East, only to realize some of Nawal’s nastiest secrets. As Jeanne uncovers more about Nawal, the viewer is shown Nawal’s story. The film builds up to an unforgettable ending that is sure to rock any viewer.
Incendies already had great source material. I’ve praised the plot enough, but one thing I must add is that the play is apparently four hours long, according to Villeneuve. It’s impressive that this movie succeeds so nicely because I can’t imagine that anything was cut. But to back up that source material, there’s some really great acting. The entire cast plays their parts with such an emotional vigor that it seems impossible that this work of art wasn’t autobiographical.
Furthermore, Villeneuve has made a film that relies on great filmmaking to impact the viewer. The cinematography is beautifully bland, surely a nod to some of the deserts in the Lebanon- like land where the movie takes place. Color scheme is also used to Villeneuve’s advantage to show the parallels between Nawal and Jeanne’s lives. Villeneuve seems to love working with extended zoom shots that shock the viewer with their overwhelmingly long silences. Why Villeneuve didn’t receive critical acclaim (in America, at least) before Incendies is a mystery.
There are many movies about the Middle East. Some have failed miserably in their attempts to strike an emotional chord with critics and viewers alike (Redacted, Rendition), but others have been extremely successful (The Hurt Locker, Lebanon). Incendies could very well be one of the best films ever made about the conflicts in the Middle East. It has its flaws which keep it from being a masterpiece (maybe it could’ve lost five or ten minutes), but it is that rare type of film that really resonates beyond the initial viewing. Hopefully, Incendies will be remembered for years to come as the little, brilliant film that spawned the great fame of Denis Villeneuve.
A work of devastating power...
“Incendies (Scorched)” opened in town this Friday, just days before it made the short list of nominees for Best Foreign Film for this year’s Academy Awards. It played in the Vancouver International Film Festival 2010, but I missed it then.
Fortunately, it received theatrical distribution; this devastating film on the horrors of conflict and its enormous human costs simply must be seen. Denis Villeneuve’s searing work, his fourth feature, is based on the celebrated play of the same name by Montreal native and artistic director of the French Theatre at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa Wajdi Mouawad. While there is no doubting the immediacy and impact it must have had as a piece of theatre, “Incendies” benefits from the transition to the larger canvas of the big screen, appropriate for the epic themes and emotional conflagrations it tackles.
When their mother dies and her will is read, twins Jeanne and Simon Marwan are stumped by its bizarre burial instructions. Nawal Marwan states that she must be interred naked and facing away from the sun in an unmarked grave, until the two letters she has left with the family notary are delivered on her behalf. One is addressed to the father the twins believed dead, the second to a son whose existence comes as a complete surprise to them. The will makes the twins realize that they did not know their mother at all. They have not had an easy relationship with her, and are understandably reluctant to comply with her terms.
The daughter Jeanne moved away and found refuge in the abstract realms of pure mathematics. Her sibling Simon, who remained at home, had the more complicated relationship because he dealt daily with Nawal’s strangeness. Jeanne agrees to deliver the letter that was left to her, and embarks on an odyssey of discovery, in search of the father she has never known. Later, she convinces Simon to join her.
Although the Middle Eastern country is never named in the film, Wajdi Mouawad ascribes the inspiration for his play to Soha Becharra, a woman who was imprisoned for six years in Khiam, southern Lebanon. In an interview with the Montreal Gazette, he explained “For me, the success of this play and the film is a way to give back some life to a woman whose life was taken away from her.” The cinematic endeavor is hugely, powerfully successful: as Jeanne scours an alien land for clues of her mother’s past, we see Nawal’s tough life in flashback in the same locations that her daughter visits for the first time. Sectarian strife, tribal and religious warfare, family blood feuds, and honor killings have been the blight of the Middle East and areas as far as Afghanistan and what is now Pakistan, and parts of Africa. Bloodshed and violence have been a way of life; each side claims to be justified in killing to avenge earlier injustices. While humankind has not lost its baser urges—we just have to recall the recent incident of the young Afghani woman whose nose was hacked off, or the countless rapes in present day DR Congo—the film is a plea for reconciliation and forgiveness to bring about the much needed change.
Nawal barely escapes an honor killing due to her unwed pregnancy, gives up her baby son for adoption, and spends the rest of her life looking for this lost child. Along the way, she takes sides in the violence and is imprisoned for fifteen years for shooting a political leader. Upon her release, she begins life anew in Canada with her infant twins, the outcome of brutal rape at the hands of a torturer. Regardless of the change in geography, she remains haunted by the past and her unending quest for her lost child. How does one look for reparation and justice, when the perpetrators frequently flee the country of their misdeeds and seek asylum elsewhere? As she has not kept her word to her son to return to him, she feels unworthy of a proper burial. A character in the film wisely observes that death always leaves its traces, and Jeanne and Simon finally get to know their mother from the relics of her life.
The Belgian actress Lubna Azabal’s heroic performance brings Nawal to awe-inspiring Brechtian life. Undefeated by each dehumanizing blow, she stoically navigates a war-crazed world devoid of any sense, her driving force is the need to reunite with her son. Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette do excellent work as the siblings who gradually begin to understand their mother. Rémy Girard and Allen Altman, playing the Canadian and Middle Eastern notaries respectively, guide the siblings through their search, while Abdelghafour Elaaziz makes an impact in the small but important role of Abou Tarek the torture specialist. The rest of the characters are brought to life by a talented cast of unknown actors; in their hands, even the smallest roles acquire great significance. Denis Villeneuve’s film honors the stories of these people by rigorously avoiding directorial excesses. Events and stories this powerful do not require embellishment, and Villeneuve’s spare, dispassionate directorial style maximizes impact.
Someone remarked that “Incendies” is the closest contemporary approximation of Greek tragedy, and I agree with this assessment: the crimes and consequences are universal and timeless, and if a film holds up a mirror to question our capacity for barbarism, it is reason to applaud. Regardless of the outcome at the Academy Awards, “Incendies” is a major achievement for Canadian cinema.
A bona fide masterpiece. As simple as that. It is ironic that one of the best films about the Middle East conflict, and specifically the tragic civil war in Lebanon, should be made by a Canadian film maker. Incendies is based on a play but it feels as though it has been adapted from a great literary work. In fact there is no specific mention of any country in the film but no one can be in any doubt that the unnamed country is Lebanon.
A Canadain-Lebanese woman dies in Canada and in her will she leaves two letters to her twin son & daughter. One is to be delivered to their brother (whom they did not know existed) and the other to their father (whom they had presumed dead). To find these people they have to travel to Lebanon to unravel the mysterious past of their deceased mother. As we follow their search, flash backs slowly reveal to us key moments in the life of their mother.
There are extremely powerful and unforgettable images and scenes in Incendies. Suffice to say that even if you have no interest in the history of the Middle East, this film will capture your attention from the start and grips you right till the end. It is the third great film (and arguably the best)that I’ve seen on this topic after Waltz with Bashir and Lebanon. All of these are essential viewing.