Review by Jack Foley
THE true and generation-spanning cost of war as felt by its victims underpins Denis Villeneuve’s powerful Oscar nominee Incendies, which is certain to leave viewers emotionally shattered.
Based on a play by Wajdi Mouawad, Villeneuve’s film offers a sobering and often gruelling insight into a family’s struggle to uncover the mysteries surrounding a woman’s life.
It begins with twins Jeanne and Simon Marwan (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette) being asked, via the will and last testament of their mother, Nawal, to find the father and brother they never knew they had.
As they set about investigating, the film flashes back to Nawal’s (played by Lubna Azabal) life in an unnamed Middle Eastern country (which we presume is Lebanon) from the moment her lover is killed and their newborn child is taken from her to avoid a religious scandal and family shame.
Nawal’s struggle to become reunited with that child forms the crux of the film, thereby enabling Villeneuve to address issues of love, hate, forgiveness and revenge, as well as more basic elements such as the atrocities committed in the name of religion, how rape can be used as a weapon and how the scars of war can be passed from generation to generation.
As such, it’s seldom easy viewing. But Villeneuve is never heavy-handed in his story-telling, while his decision to use Iraqi extras (and war survivors) as supporting cast members adds an emotional authenticity that cannot be bought.
He also draws an astonishing central performance from Azabal that is, by turns, compassionate, ruthless, determined and ultimately heartbreaking.
The film’s use of location (it was shot on location in Jordan) also adds to the realism of the piece, while his observations are mostly astute and his ending jaw-droppingly powerful so as to remain with you for some time afterwards.
Admittedly, some viewers may find elements of the story require a little stretch of the imagination, especially in the way they service the tragedy that unfolds, but Villeneuve’s subtle handling of the material gives even this a pass, making Incendies an experience that’s difficult to forget, but easy to recommend.
In French, Arabic, English, with subtitles
Running time: 131mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: September 12, 2011