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.
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.
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!
Nawal Marwan takes a bus through the country and doesn't quite reach her destination.
Can one and one ever equal the same thing?
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.
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.
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.