Monday, August 22, 2011


Incendies was one of the two films I was disappointed to miss during the Film Festival. Luckily I got to see it at the Brooklyn Penthouse four days later. In summary, if I had seen it during the festival I would have classed it as the best film of the festival.

Incendies is an adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad's play about twins (brother and sister) who have to unravel the mysteries of their dead mother's life. Often plays adapted into movies give away their origins by having a small cast, a limit number of locations, very little action and depend on dialogue to move the plot forward. But unlike many adaptations of plays this one hides its roots very well.

Twins Jeanne and Simon Marwan have opposing ideas on whether their mother was crazy. At the reading of her will Simon begins to think that his mother's Notary and long time employer, Jean Lebel, is equally crazy. Simon wants to embrace his North American upbringing and forget his Lebanese heritage (and associated baggage that created the crazy mother who brought him up). The will includes 3 odd requests from his mother. While Simon washes his hands of his mother, Jeanne takes on the mission set by their mother and flies to Lebanon.

Phrase book in hand Jeanne tries to track down mum's family. The film flashes back from time to time into their mother's recent and distant past. So we find out the back story slightly ahead of Jeanne. Jeanne and her mother, Nawal, look similar and so it pays to concentrate to verify whether the young woman is Jeanne or Nawal in flashback. That the young Nawal was involved in a war generally gives it away. Eventually Jean Lebel brings the reluctant Simon to join Jeanne in Lebanon to wrap up the mission and make sure they are both on hand when the final secret is revealed.

This is a mystery story that starts very slowly, but gradually the pace picks up as you (and the twins) get to know more of the back story and find out that they didn't know their mum at all. Eventually the mystery unfolds to a suitably dramatic climax. At the end you realise that the Quebecois Notary knew a lot more than he originally let on.

While Canada is mentioned a lot in the film, Lebanon is not mentioned once, but what other Arab country has a power struggle and civil war between Muslims and Christians? Where French is commonly spoken, there a powerful enemy to the south and Palestinian refugees? What is the taboo about mentioning Lebanon (or Israel for that matter)? Is the idea to make the war, the politics and the atrocities more abstract by not mentioning their location? But given that the Muslim versus Christian conflict is openly discussed, this is not an abstract civil war but clearly one where religion is used to identify factions. My guess is that they were trying to avoid upsetting some people, by in effect saying "you may think this is Lebanon and those planes are from Israel but we refuse to confirm or deny that". That said they don't flinch from the horrors of war and what passes for 'peace' in Lebanon.

Incendies is sometimes translated as Scorched.

Ian's rating 5/5

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