Posted March 4, 2011 by Heidi Vella in DVD/Blu-ray
 
 

Incendies


How important is it to be aware of your parentage and heritage? In many multi-cultural societies, mixed up of East and West, children are unaware of their parent’s very different childhoods and the actual relevance it has on their lives.

How important is it to be aware of your parentage and heritage? In many multi-cultural societies, mixed up of East and West, children are unaware of their parent’s very different childhoods and the actual relevance it has on their lives. Finding out can change a life forever, as Denis Villeneuve explores in his heart-breaking film, Incendies.

At the reading of their mother Nawal’s will adult Canadian twins, Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette), are given two envelopes – one for their brother and one for their father. Only when they have delivered them can they bury their mother and open her final letter. However, the twins never knew they had a brother and believed their father – having never met him – to be dead.

Adapted from a play by Lebanese-born Wajdi Mouawad, Incendies takes the audience on a shocking and brutal journey into the past of a Middle Eastern mother who survives several deeply disturbing trials and tribulations – to give away any more would ruin it – before immigrating to Quebec. All we know is that her children thought her eccentric, perhaps mad, and wished their mother had just been normal.

Reluctant, but intrigued, Jeanne heads to her mother’s unnamed village, which we assume to be Lebanon, to find out about their father. However, the welcome she receives is not the warm one she was expecting.

As Jeanne sets out on her journey we are introduced to Nawal and the beginning of her story, the brutal killing of her refugee lover. Incendies floats in and out of these different time-frames, entwining Nawal’s story with that of her children, until they meet succinctly at a devastating end. The time changes can, at times, be confusing as Villeneuve gives little context to what happens, leaving the audience as puzzled as the twins. It is certainly worth hanging in there though, as everything unravels with precision timing.

Incendies isn’t a one-layered story. It respectfully and poetically deals with war, rape, genocide, courage, family and identity. Nawal’s own early life is intrinsically linked to who she becomes, explaining her retreat in later life, and becoming intrinsic to the twins’ future. In fact, Incendies means ‘scorched’ – as if it is scorched onto their skin.

Visually, the film itself is full of forlorn images of quiet suffering, close-ups of symbolic parts of the body, the separate images that link Jeanne, Simon, Nawal and their father and brother together, even if they don’t know it. The soundtrack lends to this; sometimes there will be none at all, then suddenly it will loudly implode into a scene as if you were watching a REM music video.

Affecting and thought-provoking, Incendies is likely to slip under the radar for most of the film-going public, but it’s a journey worth taking.


Heidi Vella