Incendies Reviews

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Super Reviewer
December 25, 2013
Very compelling film. Worth watching.
Super Reviewer
April 8, 2011
"Incendies" is a masterpiece; a virtually flawless piece of writing, directing, and acting that comes together in a narrative of no easy answers and a ending to leave you rattled.
Super Reviewer
October 26, 2012
Although the story can sometimes feel slightly contrived, over-neat and melodramatic (perhaps really lacking still deeper character explorations to justify the extremes of the narrative), this is a powerful, gripping, insightful film with strong cinematography, charged performances and a devastating emotional impact.
Super Reviewer
½ March 6, 2012
When films span multiple time periods and have several main characters, you can be sure that everything will come together in the most contrived way, often revealing things that are less shocking than intended simply because of their lack of believability. Incendies is one such film, but it manages to overcome the limitations of this narrative structure because of its compelling subject matter and stunning lead performances.
Twins Jeanne and Simon Marwan sit down to hear the will of their mother, Nawal, who has recently passed away. They are shocked to learn that Nawal's final wish is for the pair to deliver envelopes to two people they didn't know prior to this - their father and their brother. Simon refuses to do so, but Jeanne feels compelled to learn more about her mother's past, something that is now a complete mystery. So she leaves Canada for Lebanon. Meanwhile, the story also tracks Nawal as a young student caught up in a rising war between Christians and Muslims. This leads her to commit an act for which she's caught an imprisoned in the most horrific of conditions for well over a decade.
On the surface, Incendies embraces the usual thematic principles that war is hell and it cuts promising lives too short. But writer director Denis Villeneuve manages to elevate his story above the usual cliches that Hollywood war films love to embrace. Villeneuve's eye is on understanding and watching these characters as they try to come to terms with the unforgiving world they have been born into, and how that world shapes them. The detail that goes into re-creating the Middle East conflict for this film is precise yet unobtrusive. Incendies manages to create an epic scope of Lebanon and Canada while limiting the audience's perspectives strictly to that of its main protagonists, Nawal and Jeanne. Both actors - Lubna Azabel and Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin respectively - are expected to communicate much to the audience through their silence and restrained reactions. The camera maintains a lot of focus on their faces, capturing the subtle hints that suggest their characters are trying to figure everything out. Such performances are always challenging for actors and one of the reasons why so many poorly made movies often have their actors speaking how they feel out loud. Denis Villeneuve is too skilled for such nonsense and so are his actors.
As I mentioned earlier, Incendies runs a little too long, and it's twist ending feels very contrived and predictable long before it's even revealed. But that should not deter any audience member from wanting to experience this powerful film, a genuine highlight of contemporary Canadian cinema.
Super Reviewer
April 19, 2011
Dramatic, well-acted, gripping and shot in a way that really does let the camera tell the story, Incendies has a lot going for it. For me, though, the structure was a bit tedious: see mother go through chapter of her story; watch children track down and learn that part of story; repeat. Every scene was somewhat anti-climactic, as you already knew how it would end. And yet, it was still compelling, and the sad similarity in the juxtaposed protagonist and antagonist - each of whom, in their own way, sell out every last fibre of their belief to survive in wartime - is chilling to say the least. Not a perfect film, but certainly notable, and not just for Canada. Well worth seeing, like a less overtly provocative Michael Haneke piece.
Super Reviewer
January 26, 2012
A striking tragedy unfolds, reminding us to treat each person we meet, no matter our relation or lack-there-of, with invested love. It is a tall tale, but wonderfully produced, sending us throughout Lebanon during its civil war with a budget under 7 million dollars. The twin sister's reaction of horror at one point was more disturbing to me than any from a horror movie heroine, and for good reason.
Super Reviewer
½ November 19, 2011
Wow . . . If you've seen Oldboy, then you probably know what I mean when I say the feelings that I had seeing this one to the end reminded me very much of the way I felt after my first viewing of Oldboy. It's difficult to express in words, but the emotion is similar to what you might get from the Greek tragedies or from the darker Shakespeare plays. I don't want to give too much away if you've not seen this yet. It certainly kept me on my toes since I was coming into it cold. I've read some reviews that call this movie "predictable." Ah, okay, whatever you say. I'm not quite an idiot, and I had no idea of where this one might end up. I certainly didn't expect the ending we have. From the craft standpoint, the story is very intriguing, it's beautifully shot, and the acting is stunningly real. Maybe the most brilliant aspect is the cutting back and forth between present and past. Kudos to the film's editors.I've also read reviews that say something along the line of, "Although the ending is sad, it's also uplifting." This is very good to know. I'm still waiting for the uplifting part to kick in. Still kind of shell-shocked. My last comment has to do with what keeps me from giving this a full five stars. I kid you not, if I were in the position of one of the twins, I'm not sure I'd take the final news as well. I'm a little bit concerned that they seem to recover from their shock -- I guess that's a good word for it -- so quickly and easily. If it were me, I think I just might go out and jump off a cliff. But like I say, I'm still waiting optimistically for the uplift . . .
Super Reviewer
½ November 7, 2011
Incendies is a gripping melodrama, filmed with great realism and tension by the supremely talented Quebecois filmmaker Denis Villeneuve. This film stands apart from the crop of earnest anti-war films for its complex characters and a baroque, twisted mystery story line. It's about a pair of twins, from whom their newly deceased mother, has hidden her past. Many viewers will be frustrated by the story's hugely unlikely string of incredible coincidences and a shocking conclusion that strains credulity and will cause immense eye-rolling. Lubna Azabal as the mother carries the film with her intelligent, feeling eyes and beauty.

The mesmerizing and disturbing scenes of violent action filled with terror and murder are some of the strongest, most ably filmed in recent memory. The scene of a bus massacre is a lesson in action and tension film making. Clearly, Villeneuve did it with modest, un-Ridley Scott like resources, apparently in Jordan, standing in for Lebanon.

I question two choices, which go back to the original source, a play by acclaimed Canadian Lebanese Playwright Wadji Moawad.

Firstly, since the country where most of the action is set is actually Lebanon, why couldn't the film just have said so, rather than creating fictional Middle Easters countries and cities? Fictionalizing locations can be the right choice, in other movies, but in this case, a highly realistic and contemporary film feels phony and takes the viewer out of the film by confusing the issue.

Next, the event that gets the story rolling is the presentation of two mysterious envelopes bequeathed to the brother and sister by their recently deceased mother. They refer to a brother and a father that they both never knew they had, which she requests that they find in order to pass on the letters. These letters set them and the film off on a journey of discovery of the truth of their roots, ultimately revealing their mother's harrowing story. Why wouldn't the mother just tell them? The letter device feels creaky, like something out of a novel by Dumas. I realize that without this McGuffin, we have no film, however, the same story could have unfolded without this cheap device.

It's well worth a look, if you're into renting something fresh, heavy and action packed.
Super Reviewer
½ August 17, 2011
Incedies is an incredible drama film from my native province of Quebec. The film is brilliantly directed by Denis Villeneuve. Incendies is terrific film. The plot is excellent, and the cast deliver some solid performances. The film follows twins, who after the death of their mother learn that they have a father and a brother, whom they never met. What follows is a journey that will uncover the truth from the past, and change the twins' lives forever. This is a remarkable film that is poignant as much as it is beautiful. This is one of the best French films that I have seen in quite some time. The story is powerful, well told and the cast simply deliver stunning performances. The film is a film not to miss, and if you're interested in a solid drama film with an engaging story, look no further than Incendies. The film is one of the best films this year, and is a must see. The film is beautifully told, and at times the film is fairly messed up, but it plays out as a strong drama film that sticks with you. The cast deliver great performances and bring something unique to the screen. Incedies is a stellar film with an amazing story. The story is engrossing, poignant and well crafted. Dennis Villeneuve has made a great film, one of the best drama films this year. If you should see one drama film, make it this one. This is a superb film that cinema buffs should check out, it is definitely worth it.
Super Reviewer
September 1, 2011
Wow. Can a movie be really good, and really messed up at the same time?? Apparently. This film depicts the darker side of humanity while also being uplifting and ultimately hopeful, though sad. Well done, and a TOTALLY unexpecting ending....
Super Reviewer
September 10, 2011
A masterful work that perfectly expresses beauty in tragedy despite heavy investment on dark history and negative emotions, Incendies is a delicate journey of discovery of history and tragedy. Convincing performances. Great cinematography. Intense plot development. Emotionally shattering. Impressive. Highly recommended.
Super Reviewer
September 9, 2011
This one was a tiresome journey, but thankfully not worthless. Although I knew what's in store and a bit weary, I was still interested in knowing how it's being put in here. Probably due to the apt execution that succeeded in keeping me glued to the screen. If you go for the movie and want yourself "at peace" once it's over, bear in mind that it's a work of fiction and don't question its logicality.
Super Reviewer
½ July 26, 2011
This film is absolutely fantastic, so intense and involving, a devastating story that is mostly about love and hate, and secrets and amends. A completely unpredictable drama with a powerful performance by Lubna Azabal and an unbelievable, jaw-dropping ending.
Super Reviewer
½ May 16, 2011
Before I went to see Snowtown, I made sure to mentally prepare myself for the viewing challenge which I knew lay before me. Being based on subtext and nuance, it's not the easiest thing to get a complete grasp of after one viewing, even though that's all you ever want to see of it. I dearly, dearly wish that someone had warned me before I bought my ticket for Incendies, as it turns out to be not just a drama but a character study, a political statement and a slow burning twisty-turny thriller which has the capability to fry your brain completely.

The film details the life, both past and present, of the recently deceased Nawal Marwan, and her twin children, Simon and Jeanne. After leaving them some slightly cryptic tasks in her will Jeanne drags her brother along on her quest to honour her mother's last wishes. But the road which she drags him down doesn't end where anyone expects.

Denis Villeneuve directs this searing mystery with an ungodly talent. After an opening which Kubrick would be proud of, he fills the screen with shot after beautiful shot which manage to capture both the harshness of the surroundings and the inner feelings of the character. He moves easily between the dreary suburbia of Canada and the unforgiving wilderness of an unnamed Middle-Eastern country in the throes of religious and political turmoil. The savage war serves as a background for Villeneuve's equally savage story of a young woman's journey from a headstrong and impulsive girl to a strong, resilient woman who stays in the minds of even the most vicous war criminals. Villeneuve is unafraid to dwell on the bursts of violence which are inherit in the setting of the film but they are never gratuitous or glorified, making it that much more sickening when they occur. He shows himself to be an extremely diverse director too, handling the drama as adeptly as he does the violence, capturing what's not being said with the subtletly and deftness of touch of someone with a rap sheet twice the length of his own.

The script is fittingly restrained. No explanations or putting on of the brakes for the unlucky viewer who falls behind, no sir. And with a narrative structure which makes Pulp Fiction look like a children's book, it's very easy to lose track of both time and character. We skip back and forth, seemingly at random, from the ongoing search and Nawal's turbulent past, but in the film's powerful finale it's as if you can almost see all the threads being pulled together. It's not as pretentious a trick as The Prestige, nor as bamboozling as The Usual Suspects, but it's as hard hitting as a sledgehammer to the stomach.

Anchoring this entire labyrinth are the wonderful performances, particularly on behalf of Lubna Azabal. With an incredibly restrained yet distressingly realistic performance, Azabal invests her character with nuance and intricacy. The character may not look like much chop on paper, but the life and reality which Azabal fills her with is simply astounding to see. Most fascinating to see is the distinction between her character in the past and her character in the future. The huge differences between the two sides of the coin makes the journey in between fascinating and Azabal executes it perfectly. Her character's children also pull their weight in the film, Gaudette's Simon is a powerhouse of angst where Poulin's Jeanne is his polar opposite: cool, calm and collected in any situation. And when the final revelation hits home to these two characters, their shock and despair is palpable without feeling like a soap opera. The two share a beautiful moment in the swimming pool where they confront their feeling and share their unbearable grief with a single embrace. The supporting cast may not have all that much to do, focussing mainly on the three at the centre of the film, but Elaaziz is as terrifying as his character would demand and Remy Girard makes a solid notary as Jean Lebel.

But apart from Azabal's incredible performance, the star of the show is the beautiful style employed by everyone involved. The difficult and intimidating structure of the narrative is fantastically original and groundbreaking, investing more trust than usually expected in its audience, the film looks beautiful in every scene and the sprawling storyline is able to make its mark on various themes from politics to family to life itself. It may not be for everybody but it's definitely for this guy. I'm sitting here with my thumbs pointing at my face by the way. This guy!

Defining Scene:
Nawal Marwan takes a bus through the country and doesn't quite reach her destination.

Can one and one ever equal the same thing?
Super Reviewer
July 1, 2011
A Palestinian mother's will sends her children on a mystery that leads to questions about their origins.
This film begins with a plot device, the mother's will, that is simply unnecessary. There's no obvious reason why the mother couldn't simply inform her children about the truths revolving around her experiences in Palestine and their father, and I don't see how the mystery strengthens the impact of the eventual reality.
That said, once the story does unfold, it is captivating and harrowing. The shit this woman went through defies description, and the plot does a fair job of staying ahead of even the most attentive viewer.
I especially like the direction by Denis Villeneuve. When the "school janitor" gives his account of Nawal's experiences in prison, the camera remains focused on Jeanne's reaction. We hear his story as the daughter does, and Villeneuve reminds us that we should be far more concerned with how this tragedy affects the children than with how it affects the story-teller. Likewise, the sections of the film featuring Nawal, especially the brutality she experiences in prison, perfectly balance what to expose and what to hide. The violence is graphic when it needs to be, but mostly it's suggestive to enhance the film's effect.
In the end, the film becomes an allegory for Palestine. As in the film's characters, there is a cycle of anger and violence in this country, and the film urges a break in this cycle, which is of course easier said than done. Additionally, Palestine is a hybrid of multiple cultures, intersecting in a very small area, and without giving too much away, these characters are also hybrids of different forms. Like many post-colonial theorists contend, resolving hybridity is the difficult work that is involved in surviving colonization.
Overall, this is a heavy, oftentimes depressing film, and audiences who couldn't point to where Palestine is/was on the map will have a hard time following the film's action, but ultimately it is a remarkable achievement.
Super Reviewer
February 21, 2011
The search began at the opening of their mother's will.

Excellent Film! You gotta love foreign films! This film really is clever and profound. It really comes at you unexpected and that feeling that leaves you at the end really is something to cherish in a film that few can do that to you. An astounding film highly recommended.

Canadian Nawal Marwan has just passed away. The only people at the reading of her will are her twin adult children, Jeanne and Simon Marwan, and the executor, Nawal's long time employer and friend, notary Jean Lebel. The will contains many unusual requests, the most unusual being two sealed envelopes, one to be delivered by each of the twins to their father and to their brother respectively. The unusual nature of these requests are that their father as they know passed away years earlier during the war in the Middle East (where Nawal was raised) and they have no knowledge of any other offspring. Simon sees these requests as further indication that his mother was crazy and he will have no part of any of what he sees as her unusual final requests. But Jeanne wants to respect her mother's final wishes, which means finding out who their real father is and who this unknown brother is. These tasks take Jeanne on a quest to the Middle East to trace her mother's history, of which she knows little. As Jeanne goes on her quest with what little information she has on hand, she finds a history filled with turmoil. But many who knew her mother or knew of her mother refuse to speak to Jeanne. Jeanne ultimately requires Simon's assistance who reluctantly joins her in the Middle East. But even Simon gets caught up in finding out about his father and brother when they are closer to piecing together the puzzle. Finding out about their mother's past and thus their own history may enlighten them on why Nawal was the woman that she was.
Super Reviewer
May 21, 2011
Incendies is a film of great many layers -- one of clashing forms, genres, protagonists and hidden messages. The French Canadian, Best Foreign Language Film nominee is actually a smorgasbord of the candid, the mysterious, the horrific, the heartfelt, and the deranged all fighting to take hold of the confounded viewer, pressed back in his seat by the startling nature of what's presented. Although, as fascinating as the film is, I can't say that its heavy stream of disparate elements was held together seamlessly. In fact, the result is a rather untidy package.

It would take a master to blend a mystery, a cross-continental identity search, a Greek tragedy, a war film and a political allegory into a polished, unwavering product of consummate power; but director Denis Villeneuve doesn't quite have the craft to keep up with his ambitions. Based on the novel Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad, Incendies tells two parallel stories in a non-linear narrative. The first is the story of Jeanne and Simon, twins from Quebec, who, in accordance with their mother's dying wishes, must track down their long lost father and brother in Lebanon. The second is the story of their mother, Nawal, and her journey from disgraced Lebanese villager to POW in a religious war to quiet single mother living in Quebec.

For the first half of the movie's run-time, we follow Jeanne in search of her father. As the film cuts between Jeanne's journey and Nawal's forty years before, the same cross, that hangs around both women's necks, is both a clever match-cut tool as well as a meaningful motif linking mother and daughter and marking Jeanne's investigation as something of a religious pilgrimage. The Lebanese civil war that Nawal gets caught up in, circa 1970, is religious, and her christianity is by turns her condemnation and her saving grace depending on which war party she runs across. In its somber, taciturn way, Incendies compels most in its first half as Jeanne retraces her mother's steps, traveling down the same dirt roads, talking to the same people, inhabiting the same houses and rooms. Like a great mystery, the trail runs hot and cold, clues lead to people of interest, some will talk and some won't. The procedural aspect hides a more personal adventure as well: in her odyssey to learn her father's identity, she learns more about her mother than she ever knew, and even more, about herself, her own roots and all the blood, violence and hate that led to her own conception. It's searing the way the film contemplates the possible darkness hiding behind a person's origins.

The rest of the film is a fractured, sometimes feckless, patchwork of different components. Non-sequitors involving child soldiers have purpose -- in plot and theme -- but are placed inharmoniously within the story without context or proper transition. Nawal's long stint in a tiger-cage of a political prison is wrought with confusing structural fallacies and a discombobulated sense of time lapse. It's not intended, believe me -- when specific actions occur is very important to the film's logic and especially its wallop of a climaxing plot twist. (You might want to read up on your Sophocles). And the underlying political agenda is a sleepy allegory about the suffering incurred on those attempting to overcome regional religious intolerance. All those layers can make for a heady filmic experience when done right, but Incendies isn't as incisive and important as it is busy and crudely fragmented.
Bill D 2007
Super Reviewer
May 15, 2011
"Incendies" (Fires) gets overly melodramatic in its last half-hour, but for most of its two-hour running time it is magnificent. This is a major artistic achievement and a must-see for anyone who considers himself a true cinephile.
Super Reviewer
April 24, 2011
'Incendies'. A tale of a woman's journey through the horrors of war, and a sister & brother rediscovering their mother and family. Filled with harrowing imagery, with a brilliant lead performance by Lubna Azabal and a twist that churns the stomach, it is a film worthy of its accolades.
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