The authenticity is piercing.

Incendies

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


 

            Go if you are willing to explore your own feelings about religion, war, violence, and humanity. Incendies is a very rough ride and it is not the kind of film that allows us to sit quietly in our protective bubble while thinking the film applies only to other people far away. It's too tough for that. This harsh story demands that we examine our attitudes within our own lives.
            The great strength of the film is its refusal to spell things out for us. We never know exactly what, why, where, or when any of this is happening. The screen is filled with the losses of war - the loss of family and homes and towns and of the brutality of human beings, one to another. The war we are watching is deeply rooted in religious hatred. This is the Middle East - somewhere - and the scattered fighters aren't driven by economics or territory. This is hatred taught from birth. Because we aren't distracted by the pros and cons of cause, we feel the full horror of the meaningless carnage. And by resisting melodrama and sentiment, director Denis Villeneuve pulls us right into the brutality.
            We meet Nawal (Lubna Azabal) as a young Christian woman running away with her Muslim lover. There is no point in describing a plot that unfolds in violence; it has to be seen. Enough to say Nawal commits a crime, is jailed and suffers torture. Eventually friends help her escape to Canada with her children - a boy (Simon played by Maxim Gaudette) and a girl (Jeanne (played by Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin). As the film opens, Nawal has died and the now adult Simon and Jeanne sit with their mother's executor for the reading of her will. She has also left two letters to them - one instructing Simon to find the brother he didn't know he had, and one to Jeanne telling her to find the father she and Simon have never known. It is this will that drives Jeanne back to the Middle East for the search.
            Another great strength here is the casting. Speaking over intermittent sub-titles in mixtures of French, Arabic, and a little English, each actor seems to belong exactly where he is. At the top of the outstanding cast, two major characters are created by actors whose authenticity is piercing. Lubna Azabal's Nawal, in flashbacks, is indelible in her courage and stoicism as she suffers on the path she has chosen. As her daughter, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin's Jeanne is a French speaking Canadian thrown by loyalty into the centuries long religious wars of the Middle East. She is absolutely convincing in her determination to carry out her mother's final wishes. This moving family story plants us right there with Jeanne as she is engulfed by the results of her search - a flood of family revelations in a landscape of destruction. Go if you dare. It's unforgettable.

 

 


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