Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Canada’s submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category for this year’s Academy Awards comes in the shape of a rather atypical piece of Quebecois cinema – a mostly Arabic language war drama. Originating as a coup de foudre that director Denis Villeneuve had for Wadji Mouawad’s play of the same name, Villeneuve’s screen adaptation has been hailed as his best feature film to date.
The blaze of the title is largely carried by Lubna Azabal’s character, Nawal, a modern-thinking woman of Christian descent in a fictional Arabic-speaking country in the 1970s. From the very first flashback scene in which Nawal appears, the honour killing of her refugee boyfriend and father of her unborn, illegitimate child perpetrated by members of her own family, tragedy and upheaval shadow her life.
Predictable events intertwine with sheer inconceivability as Nawal’s political awakening, stemming from a primal urge
Following Nawal’s death in the film’s opening sequence, her Quebec-raised listless twins grudgingly start out on a reluctant journey to deliver their mother’s posthumous letters to their hitherto unknown father and a brother whose existence is about to jar the void comfort of their lives in the dystopian bleakness of wintry Montreal. Tracing back their outcast mother’s traumatic history, Jeanne, the more intense of the two siblings, starts to uncover the vicious scarring left behind by decades of conflict. Her mother’s memory is very much alive in her home village and it comes with a burdensome heritage – ‘You are not welcome here’, Jeanne is told by a bevy of local women in a country where honour, clan, and name carry a virtually life-and-death significance.
Villeneuve is not afraid of handling politically and emotionally complex themes (hereditary guilt, absolution, the strength required to come to terms with forgiveness) in a low-key, unembellished treatment which manages to steer clear of the potential melodramatic pitfalls abounding in such dense subject matter. The culminating scene comes as a stifled hysterical cry of horror as Jeanne realises the incongruous reason for her existence, and while the ending does raise a fair dose of scepticism, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin as Jeanne and Maxim Gaudette as Simon to some extent stave off disbelief by the strength of their muffled shock and leap into mature forgiveness.
Insofar as Incendies is part of the Quebecois cinema landscape, it is a trailblazer. Eschewing the navel-gazing,