Starring: Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Running Time: 125 mins
Incendies is a Canadian film about a brother and sister who, after their mother’s death, are told to go to the Middle East to find their estranged brother and father.
Denis Villeneuve’s talent in his recent Hollywood films has been making movies with no sense of hope, and a deeply disturbing and dark desperation. However, the reason that Incendies works is because it’s not so devastating. Of course, it’s still an extremely heavy-going movie, but the core of its story actually revolves around the desire to bring a family together, no matter how it has been torn apart over the years.
Firstly, I want to talk about the use of flashbacks in this film. About 60% of the movie details the horrific life of the siblings’ mother in the Middle East a few decades ago, and the rest the brother and sister looking for the lost members of their family. Although initially a little confusing, the flashbacks become a very powerful tool of emphasising how this family has been ripped apart so brutally, something that made the story even more fascinating to follow.
Another interesting and effective thing about the story is that it, although loosely based on one, doesn’t revolve around a real-life historical conflict. Instead of setting the mother’s part of the story, which centres on her escaping from a religion she opposes, within some part of history that we all know, Incendies decides to use only the concept of ‘a war’ as a backdrop to the central part of the story.
As a result, there’s never a point where your attention is focussed on the state of the war and the wider context, because it doesn’t actually have much historical significance. That means that the family story is the sole focus of the entire movie, meaning it never gets lost beneath a wider story, and always remains the emotional core of the film, which I thought was a very interesting and unique way of bringing the story across.
The story plays out over the course of just over two hours, but given its slow pace it does feel quite a bit longer. Therefore, the actors’ performances are integral to keeping it emotionally engaging. Although the film definitely has a heavy-going atmosphere, there were moments where I just felt like it dragged on a little without the same potency, and that’s where the fantastic performances from Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette came in, as they all add to Villeneuve’s directing to keep the emotional power of the story going.
Overall, I liked Incendies a lot. It’s not the most brutal and devastating Villeneuve film of all, but it still retains an impressive emotional power thanks to a very strong and real story about family torn apart by war, told in a unique context with very effective flashbacks, and that’s why it gets a 7.7 from me.