Incendies explodes into a thrilling mystery-drama that tackles both family and history. As a fan of Villeneuve’s work, it was imperative that I experienced his earlier work. To cement the accolades and acclaim that he receives, not just by me, but the film industry. He is rapidly rising to be one of the most influential directors working today.
So, Incendies. His big breakthrough before Hollywood snatched him up and blessed the world with his talent. I set myself ridiculous expectations. Quietly hoping this would be a masterpiece. And as soon as the credits rolled, sitting there in absolute silence, I gently closed my eyes. The overbearing pressure dissipated and my body was overwhelmed. This. This is cinematic gold. An undisputed classic in the making that relishes in the brutality of civil war and religious hatred. Two Canadian twins travel to their mother’s home country in an attempt to uncover her hidden past, where they must find their father and long-lost brother.
It’s a tragic tale of love, loss and life amidst a brutal civil war, caused by the opposing ideologies of Christianity and Islam. A family who believed their mother to be mentally unstable, uncovering her shocking past at her last behest. It portrays the idea of redemption, even at death. The journey that these twins go through in the present day equals that of the harsh experiences that their mother encountered during the civil war.
Villeneuve ingeniously integrates these two timelines to perfection, each separating chapter introducing a pivotal character or place. The meticulous pacing envelops you into, not just a broken country, but a broken family. We witness the flashbacks of the mother’s past life, and it is savage. Honestly, the unembellished acts of violence she went through completely shook me to the core. Villeneuve does not shy away from children getting shot in the head or innocent Muslim refugees getting massacred on a bus, and it grabs you. The sheer power and ferocity of the blazing imagery takes hold. Unable to let go. Brilliantly elegant, yet audacious.
The minimal amount of characterisation surprisingly works in the narrative’s favour. The twins are not investable characters, and they shouldn’t be. It’s the mother. A screenplay with an intricate amount of depth to her character, leaving small breadcrumbs for the final revelation. And what a reveal that was! I gasped, put my hands towards my gaping mouth and widened by blood-shot eyes. Too much of a coincidence? Perhaps.
But what it does do is solidify the tragic life that Nawal had the misfortune of surviving. And despite the outcome, it made her who she was until her death. A loving mother to her children. Played exceptionally by Azabal whom of which did not garner enough acclaim for her performance. She was able to show vulnerability within her stone-cold exterior, conveying the amount of loss she had experienced with just one gaze at the camera.
Villeneuve’s directing style, as always, is masterful. Dartonne’s editing, especially splicing the two timelines, was near-perfect. The right amount of time is spent on each scene, such as the blazing bus, to conjure up an emotional connection. And Turpin’s cinematography was gorgeous. The landscape shots of the war-torn unnamed middle eastern country (heavily implied to be Lebanon) were both stunning and devastating.
To put it simply, Incendies is a masterclass in technical excellence. In fact, the film is a near-masterpiece. A few pacing issues here and there, which could’ve been alleviated with a tighter runtime. However, that doesn’t deter from the overall sprawling devastation that Incendies brings to our screens. It is a heartbreaking tragedy, and one of Villeneuve’s best.