“Incendies” Heats Up Screen
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Think of it as the difference between 2D and 3D, the addition of a whole new dimension. That’s the way I view it when a stage play is adapted into a movie.
No longer are you restricted by the confines of the theater’s proscenium arch. You can move from close-ups to panoramic vistas. You can use authentic backdrops, or present the story with ultra reality.
When director Denis Villeneuve decided to base a film on Wajdi Mouawad’s play, “Scorched,” he was able to supplement the gripping dialogue and startling plot with authentic Middle Eastern locales that add a verisimilitude only cinematography can supply.
This is not to denigrate the excitement of a live performance or the immediacy of theater. It’s merely to recognize that a film is something different. So Villeneuve changed the title to “Incendies” (French for “Scorched”) to distinguish between his film and Mouawad’s play.
“Incendies” recounts the search by a brother and sister for their heritage. When their mother dies, she leaves two envelopes for her twin children to deliver to a previously unknown father and a surprise brother. Her odd will specifies that she be buried without a coffin, naked, and facing downward, with no headstone, until Simon (Maxim Gaudette) and Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) accomplish their mission.
So the siblings travel to the Middle East, visiting their mother’s village, orphanages, and prisons, in search of this phantom father and brother.
The film unfolds as two parallel stories, the twin’s search and the mother’s ordeal.
The flashbacks reveal that Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal) disgraced her Lebanese family when she became pregnant out of wedlock. Even though she gave up the baby to a midwife, she vowed to one day find him again. And amid the war-torn country, she doggedly looks for him. Her political viewpoint shifts when she witnesses the brutality of the Christian right – a harrowing experience as passengers are murdered on a burning bus – and she commits an act that lands her in prison. There she is known as the Woman Who Sings, refusing to be broken by her merciless jailors.
At the same time we follow Jeanne as she retraces her mother’s steps in search of her father’s identity. Brother Simon and the notary who employed Newal in America (Rémy Girard) join her as they close in on the identity of this long-lost brother (Abdelghafour Elaaziz).
Past and present collide as the shocking truth is uncovered.
“Incendies” is currently heating up the screen at the Tropic Cinema.
Filmed in Canada (Quebec) and Jordan (a stand-in for Lebanon), this French-language film was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film. Roger Ebert predicted it would win, but it lost out to “In a Better World.” Having seen them both, I agreed with Ebert. Rotten Tomatoes gives it 94% positive reviews.
Denis Villeneuves’s fourth feature, “Incendies” is considered a shocker – not for blood and
gore, but for the horrors that war and culture can exert on a family.
Not to take anything away from Lebanese writer Wajdi Mouawad’s fine play, but the film delivers a you-are-there sensibility that makes it all the more poignant. Mouawad’s production of a trilogy of Greek plays by Sophocles – “Electra,” “Antigone,” and “The Women of Trachis” – received great acclaim in Canada. No surprise that he’d tackle “Oedipus” too.
[from Solares Hill]