Starring: Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette, Rémy Girard
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Chances are you’ll find yourself feeling very frustrated after watching Incendies. This is not because Denis Villeneuve did a horrible job directing the film; in fact, it’s one of the best films to come from Quebec in the last couple of years. It’s because you can’t help shake your head at the senseless violence that takes place in the movie. We’re not talking about the normal senseless violence that is pumped into high-octane thrillers but the senseless violence that still exists today in the real world.
After the death of their mother Nawal (Lubna Azabal), twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon Marwan (Maxim Gaudette) are told during the reading of her will that their father is not dead and that they have a long-lost brother. They’re also told that they must deliver a message in sealed envelopes to both of them. While Simon balks at completing his mother’s dying wish, Jeanne wants to do it because she wants to find out the truth about her mother’s past. This takes her and her brother on a journey to the Middle East where answers are difficult to come by and the revelations are gruesome and shocking. The twins find that their mother’s journey to Canada was a brutal one and that they might not like the answers that they’re seeking.
One thing that is noticeable when watching Incendies is that Villeneuve did a masterful job at making the film feel incredibly intimate by limiting the amount of ambient sound so we could focus on what is happening on the screen. When we do hear noises in the background, they’re only essential to the story. It makes it seem like we’re drawn into the thoughts of the characters and not just viewing the scenario. That’s not to say that there aren’t all that many big bangs and other sound effects. When attention-grabbing sound is used, it’s done so with purpose to garner attention rather than be an audible tease or distraction.
The acting is extremely well done as everyone does so much by doing so little. All the actors, especially the female leads do an incredible job making it feel like everyone is a constant state of despair. They do a fantastic job at appearing not to show emotion even though you could sense the character is screaming on the inside. When they do, whether it’s a smile or a tear in their eye, it gives the impression like their putting an exclamation point on what the character is feeling. Even though at times it seems the people in the film may seem lifeless or emotionless, it’s because the actors are doing a great job at being subtle instead of completely deadpanning their performances.
One criticism I have is that the movie builds you up for a giant twist so if you’re looking for it, you can sort of figure it out halfway through the film. This is because from the very onset of the movie we are set up with the fact that there is something in the story that doesn’t make much sense. The fact that the twins’ mother has revealed to them that their father is not dead and that they have a long-lost brother tells you that there is going to be a lot of sleuthing going on. The major twist is well done and even though I felt it was given away by some of the scenes in the movie, it still felt like a shock watching it; half because you didn’t think that the Villeneuve and co-screenwriter Valérie Beaugrand-Champagne would allow for something so bold and unsettling to take place in the story and half because if you see it coming, it’s a pleasant surprise that the filmmakers continued to go with it instead of throwing in some sort of unexplainable curveball.
There are other petty issues that I have with Incendies: I didn’t quite like the ending, the brother shows little redeeming value and is a very unlikable person (although I understand why his sister still wants him around since he’s the only family she knows now that her mother has passed on), and the film’s pace can be a bit on the slow side at times. However, Denis Villeneuve’s film is a great piece of work and one of the best films to come out of Quebec in the last decade. It’s not a five-star movie but it should still be on most people’s must-see list.
This post was originally published on this site on April 25, 2011. The original review is intact with some minor grammatical changes and film stills were added for this revision.