Overlooked Film #10: Incendies (2010)

Incendies (2011) – Run Time: 130 Minutes

Available on Netflix Instant, DVD: No, Yes / Buy Incendies on Amazon & Support the YMAL

“Death is never the end of the story. It always leaves tracks.”

Incendies opens with death and one of the bluntest sounding parting message one could imagine.

Twins Jeanne and Simon are called into the office of their recently deceased mother’s employer, a notary tasked with carrying out their mother’s last will. The directive – part revelation shrouded in mystery. Nawal Marwan’s request – find these lost immediate relatives and you can bury me properly. Until then, “Bury me with no casket, no prayers, naked, face down, away from the world.”

“Childhood is like a knife in one’s throat; it can’t be easily removed.”

So the twins are sent on a journey through their mother’s past unravel the secrets of Nawal’s past that haunted her. Incendies has a master’s touch for sensitivity and the perfectly weaved storytelling merging scenes of the past with scenes of her children walking along her path without any idea what they are in for. From moment one, writer/director & relative newcomer Denis Villeneuve lays on the visual allusions on pretty thick but effectively. This will be no standard mystery but one laden with symbolic imagery: empty pools, constant visual cues, utilizing every detail to the story with great affect.

For example, the lone insight we have into the lives of the twins not seen through the eyes of their mother is Jeanne as a TA in a Mathematics class. The introduction by the professor describes the class as one that will be dealing with insoluble problems i.e. mathematical posits that have no solutions. Jeanne is already helping teach problems with no answers. When Jeanne asks the professor on his opinion on what she should do in regards to making the trip to her mother’s Middle East unnamed (semi-fictional) homeland his response, “What’s ridiculous is to challenge the inevitable.”Villenueve continually returns to this theme of mathematical problems throughout the film in pivotal moments.

“Ideas only survive if we’re there to defend them.”

From the description so far, I couldn’t blame you for thinking Incendies may appear much duller and overwrought then it actually is. The film moves has excellent pacing, and while it may seem a bit overboard in the profoundness of its dialogue (or the English translation of the French dialogue), the issues the film slowly dissects are as taut and intriguing as any thriller I’ve seen in years. Dancing around major plot-points in order to leave the mysteries intact for you and your viewing pleasure is at the heart of my intent.

Incendies is an attention grabbing film but not an upper by any means. Some of the films imagery is the type that will stick with you and sears into the mind. Despite glimpses of harshness and desperation, the film revels in following the path of our ancestors. Understanding your true history and bringing light to serious historical events from the perspective of those affected most is almost as important as the events themselves. What do people suffer for but for the betterment of their situation, the freedoms of their kin/descendents, and making the world a more tolerable place to exist.

Incendies is engaging, thrilling, profound, revelatory and definitely something you’ve missed out on if you didn’t catch it during a short run when it was nominated as a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2011. So what are you waiting for?


The film is not graphic throughout and is rather tame/delicate when dealing with some very heavy issues such as rape, war torn villages, imprisonment, and childbirth. Yet there is one major distrubing taboo that is not avoided, the onscreeen murder of children. The shooting of children onscreen is a major no-no in American films, and is usually the type of plot point that happens off-screen but it’s effect is heartbreaking and pivotal to the characterization of Nawal and other major players in the story.

*****SPOILERS OVER*****<

Reasons to Watch Incendies

  • History Alert: Gain a basis in the historical narrative of the 1970s Lebanese civil war.
  • In the same vein, you’re a fan of films like Best Picture winner Argo, retelling conflicts in recent history from the eyes of those involved.
  • A captivating performance by Lubna Azabal.
  • Beautiful Cinematography.

Things to Look For

  • Radiohead Opening Montage –  Any movie that opens with the faded sounds of Thom Yorke singing “You and Whose Army” can’t be half bad.
  • Juxtaposed opening segments of war torn area children followed by the reading of the will.
  • The Importance of Being Invited In For Tea
  • Interesting Biblical religious thread & analogies.
  • The Repetition of the Protagonist’s Name – You’ll never forget the name Narwal Marwan. They must have said it 15 million times. I haven’t heard a name that many times since Captain Jack Sparrow or Kaiser Soze or Jean Faljean (and I didn’t even see that one, just the repetition in the trailer is enough).

Trailer for Incendies