The (unusual) horrors of war

Pin It
click to enlarge Incendies - SONY PICTURES CLASSICS
  • Sony Pictures Classics
  • Incendies

Unlike many Foreign Language Oscar nominees, 2011 nominee Incendies doesn’t fit into the tidy Academy-friendly box. Sure, it’s about the horrors of war, but not in the usual way. In its unconventional rhythms, it should be easy to embrace as a daring artistic choice. But even as it builds to a huge revelation, there’s something fundamental missing: an emotional framework for its implications.

Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad’s play opens in Quebec, where twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon Marwad (Maxim Gaudette) are listening to the will of their recently deceased Middle East-born mother, Nawal (Lubna Azabal). And it packs two startling revelations: the father they had been told was dead is, in fact, alive, and they have a brother. As Jeanne begins searching in her mother’s homeland for her history, flashbacks show us the life Nawal lived as a Christian Arab before and during a nation-dividing conflict, a life her children never imagined she endured.

If you’re not familiar with the context of 1970s Middle East politics, Incendies could prove a bit tricky to sort out as Villeneuve winds through the various allegiances and opposing forces; though the word “Lebanon” is never seen or spoken in the film, the events seem clearly intended to parallel the 1970s Lebanon War. Yet the narrative remains generally compelling as a simple detective story, even as Villeneuve risks letting us in on what Jeanne will discover before she actually discovers it.

The problem is that there’s a crucial part of the story that’s hinted at but never shown: the relationship between Nawal and the twins. Simon’s anger and bitterness suggests the kind of psychological damage that spilled over into their lives, but the story’s big stomach-punch plot twist winds up feeling too gimmicky without a richer framework for its legacy. The horrors that Nawal experienced are powerful to witness, but if Incendies wants to be about making peace with those horrors, the children who discover them need to be more than plot devices.


click to enlarge 2_5_stars.gif

Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette
Rated R

Pin It

Speaking of Film Reviews, Incendie,

More by Scott Renshaw

Latest in Film Reviews

  • Symbol Minded

    At least Inferno brings some goofiness to its absurd plot.
    • Oct 26, 2016
  • Fall Flicks

    Our picks for the "awards season" movies most worth getting excited about.
    • Oct 19, 2016
  • Making a Statement

    American Honey offers a terrific slice of life, whenever it's not trying too hard.
    • Oct 12, 2016
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • Where Are the Women?

    A critic's year-long deep-dive into the way movies portray one half of humanity.
    • May 11, 2016
  • Beasts of One Notion

    Zootopia depends entirely on its well-intentioned allegory about prejudice.
    • Mar 2, 2016

© 2016 Salt Lake City Weekly

Website powered by Foundation