Films about war, any war (World War II, recent conflicts in the Mid-East, Star) hedge on how compelling their characters are. “The Great Escape” wouldn’t have been half as much fun had we not had Steve McQueen’s Cooler King to root for; “Apocalypse Now” would not have carried us as deep into madness had we not had Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard guiding us. Denis Villeneuve’s “Incendies” is a war film full of characters that captivate the viewer from the second the first reel starts.
“Incendies” is two tales expertly woven together. The first is that of twins Simon and Jeanne Marwan dealing with the wake left by the death of their mother, Nawal Marwan. Her final wish is for Simon and Jeanne to deliver letters to their long absent father and a brother they never knew they had who are presumed still living somewhere in the Middle East. The second story tells the long, involved tale of Nawal’s journey to Canada and the birth of her twin children. Her story takes us through the world of honour killings, war, and imprisonment in the Mid-East during the ’70s.
To describe in any more detail the plot would be to spoil large parts of the film. Besides, to slot “Incendies” into a category is to do it an injustice. The film feels like it could be a tragedy, a thriller, or a war film but Villeneuve never let’s the film fall into any category. Rather, it toes the line between them all and never looses sight of the story.
The film’s emotional core is carried by Lubna Azabal’s Nawal, a women who continually faces insurmountable challenges but never seems riled until the film reaches its shocking conclusion. Azabal owns this role. She plays Nawal with a mix of grace and strength that conveys just how much she wants to be reunited with her lost son and find some semblance of closure in her life.
Central to “Incendies” is the idea that despite the hate and anger that are at the root of violence, love-unconditional and all encompassing-can exist and flourish. Nawal’s journey in “Incendies” is the search to find love and, simultaneously, find the strength to show this love to the other people in her life. The result is a haunting, complicated film about what exactly people can face and still go on living.
“Incendies” is due to be released in 2011.
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