Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Incendies: A beautiful and disturbing film

Based on the play of the same name by Lebanese Canadian playwright Wajdi Mouawad, Incendies was adapted to film by Quebec director Denis Villeneuve and received an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film in 2010.

The story is set in Canada and an unnamed Middle Eastern country where Moslems, Christians, “refugees” and “enemy war planes” fought each other in the seventies (hint, hint).

Incendies is a family drama that tells of the savagery of war and bears witness to the way in which personal tragedy leads to political extremism. The plot kicks into action when a pair of Canadian twins meet with the notary for a reading of their recently deceased mother’s will. She asks to be buried naked in an unmarked grave with her face down so she “can turn away from this world”. She also reveals to her children that their father, whom they’d always thought dead, was alive and also that they have a brother in the Middle East. Only if her twins can find their father and brother, she states, would they be able to give her a proper burial.

The plot shifts between the present-day story of the twins trying to retrace their mother’s past, and the back story of the mother herself. The painful discoveries, twists and turns are riveting and the Middle East imagery (filmed in Northern Jordan) provides a near-desolate, yet fitting, backdrop to this disturbing tale. I loved the fact that they kept the languages real: Canadian French or Levantine Arabic (with subtitles as needed), so the script felt genuine and resonated with me as a local of that region.

With two powerful plots intertwining, I was taken aback on a few occasions when the pace suddenly moved to a slower, “impressionistic” (as a review on Rotten Tomatoes called it) tempo, but most people seemed to like it because it reflects the mood of the original theater production.

Bottom line: if you haven’t seen Incendies yet, you definitely should. If it’s no longer playing in a cinema near you, get the DVD asap.

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