A baby cries while his mother hums, a story is to be unearthed with subtle revelations. “Death is never the end of the story, it always leaves traces,” is the communication from director Denis Villeneuve in his film adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad’s acclaimed stage play Scorched.
Shot in French and Arabic with English subtitles, ‘Incendies’ overcomes the usual complications of foreign film and soars in brilliant nuances. Jeanne and Simon Marwan (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette) meet with notary Jean Lebel (Rémy Girard) to read the will of Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal), their mother. Upon receipt of two envelopes the twins learn they must deliver one to the father whom they thought dead and the other to a brother they never knew existed. The secrets of ‘Incendies’ unravel as an emotional and shocking story unfolds revealing the tragic circumstances and courageousness of their mother in world overrun with hatred and danger.
‘Incendies’ is a powerful film that will be regarded as a cornerstone in filmmaking excellence. The fluidity and complexity of the film may be contributed to the amazing cinematography and controlled movements of the camera, a feature far too uncommon in today’s films, as shaky handheld cameras are currently trending. The way Villeneuve frames shots and moves into intimate, quite moments engrosses viewers while making them witnesses for a delicate, sensitive picture, full of controversial imagery and subject matter capable of inspiring arrays of emotions and discussion (ex. a shot of machine guns have the Virgin Mary taped on the barrels). The true triumph here lies in omission. Expressions by actors convey more than dialogue could hope to; preparation and aftermath convey atrocities (torture, death, rape) without them being shown; and simple and complex mathematics embody the journey and its conclusion without the screenwriters needing to further divulge in what becomes obvious.
For every emotionally powerful scene (the fire, pictured above) there are scenes of quietness and cinematic beauty (Jeanne swimming). Furthermore, the film’s score accompanies many of these deeply affecting moments and offers a calming effect, though the imagery is far from calm, creating an ambience around the event (reflect on moments from Zack Snyder’s Watchmen and Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir). Another triumph of ‘Incendies’ lies within its complicated but seamless intertwining of past and present through solid editing, casting and costuming, all of which were blended to disorient the viewer and create a certain level of unease and suspense. ‘Incendies’ will combine love and hate and leave the viewer to judge redemption, if any, in the film’s final, breathtaking moments.
Complete with white subtitles, obvious and bold red title cards appear throughout the film, perhaps an inspiration from early Italian and Russian film, used for the purposes of disorientation, impact and drama. ‘Incendies’ received the Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 2011 (though it had not opened in the U.S., nominations for “foreign language film” are determined by premier dates in the production country, Canada). It is set for limited release in the U.S. on April 22, 2011 (expanding through May) and is rated R running approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes.