On how many levels can one assess Incendies (2010), a Canadian production under the hand of Denis Villeneuve?
Is it a story of fate; a tragedy; a lesson for youth that the seemingly-impossible quest can be achieved with astounding results?
Is its Middle East setting so important? I thought Lebanon but this is up for argument as a composite of the region in general.
Could the characters just as easily have been relative to South America, Africa, or what used to be called Indo-China?
Perhaps the heroine would not have survived the trigger happy in these places and the story end during any of the troubles she encounters. Certainly, there is an irony in the share of luck that befalls Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal) in living what, for the greater part, has been a tortured adult life. Many instances where she faces death end in survival.
Her life is then made even more tortuous by a revelation discovered in a haven of safety (Quebec, Canada) where the woman, previously pregnant teenager, assassin and political prisoner, is sent.
The revelation leads her to use her Last Will and Testament to set her adult twin children Jeanne (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) the seemingly-impossible tasks of finding a father they believed dead and a brother they did not know existed – both supposedly in a region that has been in a state of war or revolutionary skirmish for much of the past 35 years.
The journey is forbidding but Jeanne, a mathematician, is courageous enough to attempt her task, using the logic of her science and the encouragement of a mentor that answers can be found, even to what seems impossible.
Her search is interspersed with flashbacks of Nawal’s story and, mentally exhausted, Jeanne entreats the immature and less-devoted Simon to take his turn adhering to his mother’s instructions.
The two are guided in some part by Nawal’s Quebec employer, notary Jean Lebel (Remy Girard), who stiffly explains that ‘to a notary, Mr Marwan, a promise is a sacred thing’. Whispered instructions from the dying Nawal are being carried out to the letter by her notary, employer and friend.
What Villeneuve has co-written, from a play by Wajdi Mouawad, is a thriller and not once in the 130 minutes does the intensity lessen. Take a breath and the action moves to an unexpected path, even more in your face than the seat-altering squirming previously visited.
Shocking scenes of cruelty are emphasised in most part by showing the aftermath, equally graphic but less invasive. The film’s shock appeal has been subtly handled by its director for the story is challenging enough without resorting to too many views of the obvious.
Whether Incendies is trying to tell us the futility of war; the legacy of motherhood; the maturation of youth; the folly of Christian versus Muslim, it tells it thrillingly.
Discussion about its meaning could take days but it left me one sobering, selfish thought: I’m just glad I didn’t spend the last 35 years living there.
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