“Incendies” is an emotional powerhouse of a drama drawing from real world headlines, Hollywood epics and Greek tragedy. This French Canadian soul-wrencher is a deep, far reaching film of many characters and complexities. But for all its ability to shock and floor you with painful realizations, it is never anything but engaging and riveting to watch.
It begins with the twins. Jeanne (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) Marwan have just been read their mother Nawal’s (Lubna Azabel) will. “Bury me naked, face down, away from the world with no stone. No epitaph for broken promises.” Her broken promise was not revealing her full past to either of her kids, one who loved but never fully understood her and the other who gave up on her odd behavior long ago.
In death, she gives them two envelopes, one to be delivered to the father they never met and the other to the brother they didn’t know existed. Jeanne travels to Nawal’s homeland in the Middle East to track both down, and as she does, the movie intercuts her journey with Nawal’s own journey and torturous history.
The story telling here is impeccable, intertwining wonderfully with a groundbreaking twist. It’s the kind of Earth shattering revelation after an already long, tragic and hopeless film journey that in another movie might be too much, but the story never causes us to languish.
“Incendies” is horrifically artful. Jeanne and Simon’s story is told through culturally poignant and intricate mystery genre dialogue. And Nawal’s is a relatively wordless, deliberately paced, war torn art house movie filled with truly ominous imagery and cinematography.
The two plot threads are seamlessly connected because of powerful performances by Azabel and Desormeaux-Poulin. Azabel is so wonderfully immersed in this devastating part. She’s the driving force behind this film of unbelievable will and determination that never feels overwrought.
But “Incendies” is a film that will leave you thinking. From the violent bus massacre that ends with the cold blood murder of a child to the prison sequence in which Nawal listens and sings as another female prisoner is raped and tortured, there are more than a few scarily memorable moments.
They remain with you because “Incendies” asks the question of how we attain peace and move on to a new chapter of our lives. “Death is never the end of the story. It always leaves tracks,” says Jeanne and Simon’s notary. “Incendies” was a Foreign Language Oscar nominee from last year, so any awards shot it has now is dead in the water. But that doesn’t mean its legacy is over.