At first you want to turn away and not watch something so downbeat but then it starts to wrenchingly grab you. There is no doubt about it that Incendies is grim stuff but it is a film (French-Canadian in English subtitles) that has forceful contemplative power. It begins in present day with a mother’s will instructing her two Arab twins to search out the identity of their father. The strong-willed mother Nawal has had a lifetime of hardships that are more and more grueling as the story progresses, but actress Lubna Azabal is allowed an arc to overcome her lived-through horrors. Unbeknownst to the children they will set course to learn about their mother’s terrible sacrifices throughout her life. In a non-specific Middle Eastern country flashbacked to decades ago (it’s suggested by the passion play it’s based on that it is likely Lebanon), she searches for her lost child amidst a revolution. She will be in a hellbent mode of revenge before long.
There is a deadly riveting sequence where rebels have stalled a bus from travelling through that is occupied by women and children of the wrong ethnic descent. They open fire on the truck with bullets piercing through the shell of the bus. Left as survivors are Nawal, one other mother and her daughter. The rebels pour lighter fluid all over the base and roof of the bus with intent to set it afire to claim any of those not quite dead. Nawal, however, is determined to live though at much expense, more than the other mother who is willing to give up. I’m sorry but by that point it was I who was ready to surrender to the rest of the film.
Director and screenwriter Denis Villeneuve (“Maelström”) dices up Nawal’s story in the past while interspersing the present day search of their father by her two children whose story is told linearly. The locations are impressive (filmed in Jordan) and believably war battered, especially during a long-extended stay inside an oppressive prison– the cell makes Nelson Mandela’s historical term in his cell look large and spacious in comparison.
Nothing is easy here. The children have had it relatively easy in contrast to their mother. They did not understand their mother’s “victimized” behavior. They will find answers and see truth in not only lineage but see truth in their childhood.
The film was submitted by Canada and was nominated at this year’s Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film. The winner was Denmark’s “In a Better World” which to me had a more charitable message and compassionate quality – dramatically complex with divides of good and bad people but was the least grim of the nominees according to what I have heard (I haven’t quite seen all the nominees).If you have time though, see that one and this one.
130 Minutes. Rated R.
FOREIGN / WAR / DOWNHEARTED / SUNDAY AFTER FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Film Cousins: “Under Fire” (1983); “No Man’s Land” (2001, Croatia); “The Constant Gardener” (2005); “Waltz With Bashir” (Israel).