02 July 2011
The Academy Award nominated Incendies is a handsome and poetic drama with haunting images and some pretty (dare I say?) incendiary scenes. Often brilliant, it is let down by a contrived plot and a twist that is powerful, but too convenient for its own sake. Still, you will leave the cinema with a feeling of having watched a film that is a spot-on representative of our current cultural and national conflicts.
Québécois twins Jeanne and Simon Marwan find out during the reading of their recently deceased mother’s will that they have a brother and a father back in their mother’s homeland, Lebanon. Simon (Maxime Gaudette) is reluctant to find their extended family, but Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) is more than eager to embark on a mission to unearth their mother’s past. From this moment on the film oscillates between the Lebanese Civil War and the present time.
Lubna Azabal is fantastic as the mother Nawal Marwan, though it would have been better had they cast a younger actress to play Nawal as a teenager. Regardless, her stoic presence against what she endures during a bitter and senseless civil war (which one of them isn’t?) really carries the film forward. Sadly, the emotional turmoil cannot be replicated during the twins’ quest in the present time. The problem is that they are given so little to play with, their presence is all but negligible.
The plot takes an unexpected turn in the final act, which is overly melodramatic and of little logic. On its own, it is a powerful revelation that really comes out of nowhere, but it feels too contrived. The film would have been just as good, if not slightly better, without the reveal and the coda. Yet, it still puts the viewers in an uncomfortable situation - something that the film fails to do somewhat.
It is, however, a perfect image of how a multi-cultured society is coming to terms with its roots - especially if those roots are scarred by meaningless and complicated wars. The society are victims of these wars that affect the present more than they should. And in this film, it affects the future even more.
Incendies is a good film and I’m not sure if it could have been a better film, but it is very interesting and raises a lot of questions. Just don’t expect a sensible plot.