It might be months away, but since Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is on the way, let’s look back at his original sand-set drama from 2010. Incendies is a heart-rending tale based on the play by Wajdi Mouawad. The story begins in Canada where twins Jeanne and Simon are left two envelopes in their mother Nawal’s will, asking them to locate their biological father and a brother who they never knew existed. Reluctantly journeying to the Middle East to respect their mother’s wishes, the twins slowly unravel a mystery which is intertwined with a bloody civil war and all the horrors that go along with warfare and conflict…
For me, Incendies is about the pointlessness of war and the idiocy of religious difference. The film begins with a forbidden relationship between a Christian and a Muslim (Nawal and her partner) and the plot goes on to show us how two different belief systems can lead to the worst kind of atrocities including terrorism, torture, and rape. Within this seemingly unavoidable conflict however, we have two individuals within these opposing groups who find kinship and companionship. If two people from two different religions can become lovers, what’s stopping everyone from showing each other love and respect?
The plot goes much deeper; a child born out of wedlock and from two warring religions is the child who Nawal pines for because she’s forced to give him up for adoption as it brings her family “shame”. This child who is born from love goes on to become the very antithesis of the word, largely because of his upbringing and environment. Contrarily, children conceived from the worst actions possible, go on to become educated and stable members of society because they’re given the opportunity. What this shows is that an opinion or belief incepted with the best intentions can go on to become warped but if given the opportunity, even the worst situations and conditions can lead to peace and normalcy.
Despite being influenced by the Lebanese Civil War, watching Incendies reminded me of Israel and Palestine who have more in common than most care to admit. Like Immortal Technique said in “The 4th Branch”: “Flow like the blood of Abraham through the Jews and the Arabs, Broken apart like a woman’s heart, abused in a marriage”. This is not the only time I was reminded of Immortal Technique however. For anyone who’s heard his classic opus “Dance With The Devil”, you might, like me, see this movie’s twist coming but it’s satisfying (maybe not the appropriate word) nonetheless.
Denis Villeneuve seems to have a penchant for depressing yet enthralling films. From Prisoners to Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, no matter the genre, a film that may otherwise be stereotypical leaves you with something to ponder. His films stay with you long after the credits have rolled, and in the case of Incendies, it’ll leave you with a lump in your throat like One Deadly Summer or even Marytrs.
All that being said, Incendies is not a perfect film. Although it may not seem important, the make-up is poor which means integral characters look either too old or too young, which I’ll admit throws you off the scent a little when it comes to the aforementioned twist, but it’s still amateur-looking. The fact that the reveal is slightly predictable (mainly because of the continued focus on the conspicuous three-dot foot tattoo) means both the screenplay and the direction lacks something, but of course, Villeneuve has become much better over the years. I will mention however, that Jeanne’s shocked reaction to her brother contemplating his findings (the “1+1=1” scene) complete with the abrupt cut makes for a memorable moment.
I usually write about underrated movies but Incendies was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2011 Oscars and it’s currently scored 93% by Rotten Tomatoes. This picture is therefore, not underrated but underexposed. If you enjoyed the similarly underexposed His House, you’ll find this an emotional but enjoyable watch. It’s unfortunate that not many people have seen this movie, and that includes Villeneuve’s newest, post-English-language fans. The public love gung-ho war movies, usually of the Michael Bay or Kathryn Bigelow variety, but they don’t want to see anything too foreign or too realistic. Whether potential viewers are turned off by the prospect of reading subtitles or put off by the synopsis, they’re all missing out on a heart-wrenching drama that will have you in tears by the time the credits roll.