Incendies: Denis Villeneuve’s Oscar Nominee

Denis Villeneuve’s fourth French-Canadian feature, Incendies, is nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, is an emotionally powerful film, boasting mythic elements and sweeping visual imagery.

World-premiering at the Telluride Film Fest last September and then playing to great acclaim at Toronto Film Fest, “Incendies” is released in the U.S. by the estimable Sony Classics.

I have not seen Wajdi Mouawad’s highly regarded play, upon which the screenplay is based, but I am told that it’s an effective transfer from stage to screen.

Villeneuve continues his poignant exploration of the positions of women in devastating political situations, which force them to deal with complex issues and make crucial decisions with potentially harrowing results.

When the notary Lebel (Rémy Girard) sits down with siblings Jeanne and Simon Marwan (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette) to read the will of their mother Nawal (Lubna Azabal), the twins are stunned to receive two mysterious envelopes. One is meant for their father, who they thought was dead, and the other is for a brother they didn’t know existed.

The tale describes how, with Lebel’s help, the twins piece together the puzzling story of their mother, the  discoveries they make about her tragic fate, caused by endless war and senseless hatred, all bringing to the fore the incredible courage of an exceptional woman.

The director says he had made some radical changes in translating the tale to the big screen.  For one thing, he decided to strip away the poetic monologues in the play by Wajdi Mouawad, the Lebanon-born author.

Instead, he opts for the structure of a mystery, sort of a detective story. For example, initially, their long-lost sibling is identifiable only by three black dots on his foot.

The tale digs deep into the main’s character’s life to reveal personal and collective secrets, incidents of brutal terrorism, ruthless rape and genocide, all set in an unnamed fictional Middle Eastern nation, which makes the story both more mythic and more universal—at a price.  There is no doubt the events were inspired by the long and bloody civil war in Lebanon, a country ravaged by conflicts, wars (with Israel, too), and retribution.

Andre Turpin’s sharp cinematography captures vividly the arid landscape of the Middle East, alternating stark, bright daylight with shadowy corners.

Emotionally and intellectually intriguing, “Incendies” is a visceral exploration of complex characters forced to face numerous obstacles with extraordinary resilience.

About the Director

Born in Quebec, Villeneuve studied film and began his career making videos and shorts films.  His features include “Un 32 aout sur terre” (1989), Maelstrom (2000), and “Polytechnique” (2009), which won nine Genie Awards (the Canadian Oscars).

 

Credits

“Scorched” would have been a more accurate and apt title to “Incendies.”

Produced by Luc Dery, Kim McGraw.

Co-producers, Milena Poylo, Gilles Sacuto, Anthony Doncque.

Directed, written by Denis Villeneuve, based on the play by Wajdi Mouawad.

Cast

Lubna Azabal, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette, Remy Girard, Abdelghafour Elaaziz, Allen Altman, Mohamed Majd, Nabil Sawalha, Baya Belal.