Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies
Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies is an unforgettable depiction of the way in which individuals are caught up in the violent upheaval of war, and are forced to uproot themselves and their families in search of safety.
Villeneuve, an exciting talent from the Canadian film industry and multiple winner of the Genie Best Director award with his films Maelstrom (2001) and Polytechnique (2010), has started to gain international recognition with his 2011 Oscar nominated film Incendies. Adapted from Wajdi Mouawad’s play, Scorched, the Quebecois film director and writer creates an emotionally evocative and raw experience for viewers and brings forth the extent to which war shapes the lives of the people involved, however different they may be.
Incendies is a story about a journey a pair of twins, Jeanne Marwan and Simon Marwan, must take after the death of their mother, Narwal Marwan. In the reading of their mother’s will, Jeanne and Simon are given two letters and are instructed to travel from Canada to an unknown country in the Middle East to deliver one to their father and one to their brother, both of whom they have never met. As the two deal with the shock of this news and the following stream of information that unravels about their past, they slowly learn the tragic sequence of events that led to their existence.
Incendies switches between past and present moving between Narwal Marwan’s life before moving to Canada and the twin’s voyage from Canada to the Middle East in the hope of finding their brother and father. The film has a sober approach to the atrocities of war, presenting the shameful acts of violence that occur in a truthful and realistic light. As stated in an interview with Trinity Film, Villeneuve also steers clear from instigating political bias by following the original plays’ lead and setting the film in an ‘imaginary space’ in the Middle East. Rather than fuelling the anger of what Villeneuve calls a ‘political minefield’, the film delves into the ‘subject of the anger’ revealing the individual humanity amongst the devastation of a tragically generic civil conflict.
Cinematically, the natural lighting and the almost dulled effects are contrasted with the shocking and powerful emotional journey the characters go through to fulfill their mother’s wish of keeping a promise in her will. Although Villeneuve brings shame and horror to the table in his depiction of this story he also closes it with the idea that patience, understanding and forgiveness can be stronger than anger and revenge. Given the current situation in the Middle East, Incendies provides a particularly relevant and thought-provoking account of a family caught in the middle of profound social turmoil.