INCENDIES can be translated as “destruction by fire”. This 2010 drama, written & directed by Denis Villeneuve, scorches 139 spellbinding minutes of storytelling into your consciousness while its images sear another path of social awareness regarding the insanity of religious fratricide. The country in question is not specified, but it serves to be Lebanon, given the material origins of the screenplay.*
‘Nawal Marwan’ (Lubna Azabal), an Arab immigrant to Canada, has died. She leaves a cryptic message for her fraternal twin children, tasking them with tracking down the brother they didn’t know they had, and the father, presumed dead. Pieced together as a mystery, it’s both a wrenching personal family journey of discovery and forgiveness and a bracing cutaway view of the horrific toll exacted by allegiance to doctrine. Faith, love, revenge, sacrifice, beautifully acted (the Moroccan-Belgian Azabal glows) and photographed (in Jordan, lensed by André Turpin). Reconciliation requires honesty and courage to face down the merciless: cleansing a wound does not come by wishing away the pain.
Costing $6,500,000, it was rewarded with $16,038,000, superior reviews and an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film (from Canada). Azabal, 30 at the time, plays her character over four decades, starting as an 18-year-old. The twins epic search to unlock family secrets is punctuated by many strong sequences, and a finale that leaves you staggered.
With Méllisa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudet, Rémy Girard and Abdelghafour Elaaziz (chilling as ‘Abou Terek’). Casting is flawless down to the tiniest bit part.
*Villeneuve’s script was inspired by a play of the same name written by Wajdi Mouawad. That came from the experiences of Souha Béchara, a Lebanese activist who was imprisoned and tortured after attempting to assassinate a high-ranking general, who was leading forces backed by invading Israel. She spent ten years in a hellhole, the Khiam Detention Center, including six in solitary with one meal a day. She wrote two books about it: “Resistance: My Life for Lebanon” and “I Dream of a Cell Of Cherries”. The irreplaceable Robert Fisk, the foremost and fairest chronicler of the Middle East, wrote about the fiendish practices at Khiam, and overt Israeli complicity, which they, of course, brazenly denied.