Every major conflict has been portrayed in film in some way or other; every perspective has been covered and every voice has been heard. Or so it would seem. But once in a while a film surfaces that tells a familiar, but somehow different story, one that shocks us and leaves us reeling with a new personal view on the horrors of war. Incendies is just that sort of film.
Twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) Marwan are in a notary’s office in Canada. Their mother, Nawal (Lubna Azabal), has just passed away, and the notary reads her last will and testament to them. She requests that the two go to her homeland, an unnamed country in the Middle East, to find their father who they’d always thought was dead, and a brother they never knew they had. It is a journey that takes one twist after another, revealing a dark side not just of their mother’s life, but their lives as well.
Almost like a travelogue with the varied expanses of the Middle East as a backdrop, Incendies is told through parallel stories of Nawal’s search for a child she gave up for adoption and the twins retracing their mother’s steps some three decades later. Nawal lived in a world where political and religious differences surrounded her in death and destruction; she is a hardened woman in contrast to the innocent, doe-eyed Jeanne and the disbelieving Simon. Their very different situations but similar quests, with three actors at their best, keep the film gripping and intense. Even as it slows up a little, you’re never less than entranced.
The wisdom of not identifying Nawal’s home country by name is a debatable aspect of Incendies, but it does genuinely feel as if leaving it ambiguous gives the film more power. For the record, the events appear take place somewhere in Lebanon.
Incendies’ twists will sicken and disturb, leaving a lingering sense of revulsion, but it isn’t shock for the sake of it. Beneath this exterior, it is a film that inspires hope and forgiveness; that says that though conflict will crush us, love and the power of the human spirit can always prevail.