Incendies (2010)

Written & Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Last year this particular film received quite the buzz. Not only was it nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, a category that included many very good entries, but I also heard great word of mouth from a couple Canadian friends who saw the film when it came out in its native country. I know absolutely nothing about the people involved in this film, but perhaps that is typical for foreign films, though I know some faces. But I did find it interesting that this film comes from French Canada. That is a part of the world that I have never thought about in terms of cinema. I guess I always assumed that Canada just worked with Hollywood, but I never thought about the French speaking regions.

Anyway, this film is about Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal) and her many unfortunate adventures. She has a son and a daughter, but upon Nawal’s death, they learn that their father is still alive and that they also have a brother, whom they must search for and deliver letters. Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) takes the task to heart, whereas Simon (Maxim Gaudette) refuses to take part in the goose chase. So Jeanne sets off to her mother’s Middle Eastern homeland to start to unravel the mysterious, and tragic, past of Nawal Marwan. Soon the children learn what their mother never told them and what their father, and their brother, never knew.

For some reason the film felt incomplete to me. This has something to do with the structure of the film and how the story ultimately unfolds. Avoiding spoilers as much as possible, Jeanne sets off to uncover the mystery and then it soon seems like her journey is truncated unnecessarily. In addition, the film has many flashbacks during which Nawal’s story is told. These instances felt awkward in some instances. However, the story becomes quite compelling as it seems the suffering of Nawal may know no end. The juxtaposition of Nawal’s past and Jeanne and Simon’s present was both jarring and inconsistent. I understand how the children may not know everything about their mother’s past, but the writer/director Denis Villeneuve seems more concerned depicting the harshness of war and the life of Nawal than he does with answering a few basic questions.

In addition, the ending of the film is set up to be extremely moving emotionally, however, by the time the ending came I found it to be a bit more ridiculous than moving. The ending, in my opinion, is laughable in its attempt to leave the audience in shock and awe. I understand what Villeneuve was trying to do, but it felt ingenuine and rang false to me. I did not feel as though any of the characters, not even Nawal, were set up enough to that point for a valuable payoff. I left the film with a bunch of questions about who Jeanne and Simon where, who the notary was, and I even had a few questions as to who Nawal was.

It seems as though I am digging quite harshly on the film, when in reality I did enjoy it. The first half was a bit tedious at times, but the mystery of who Nawal Marwan was is a fascinating story and it really picks up in the second half to make for an interesting film. The film is not without its flaws, however, and that just seems to be what I chose to focus on in my discussion. There is a lot to like with Incendies. It just felt incomplete.

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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