out of Five
Running time: 131
Impressively directed and superbly edited, this is a powerful, well-structured drama that packs a devastating emotional punch, though it's also slightly too long and veers dangerously close to manipulative melodrama in places.
What's it all about?
Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Incendies stars Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette as French-Canadian twins Jeanne and Simon. When their emotionally difficult mother Nawal (Lubna Azabal) dies, her mysterious will tasks them with tracking down the father they thought was dead and the brother they never knew they had in order to hand them both an envelope.
Jeanne and Simon dutifully (if reluctantly) travel to an unnamed country in the Middle East in order to comply with Nawal's final wishes, but they are unprepared for the full horrors of their mother's life story. Meanwhile, flashbacks tell Nawal's history in parallel with the twins' journey.
Lubna Azabal delivers a stunning central performance as Nawal, as her tragic story takes her from young lover, to victim, to freedom fighter, to political prisoner, encountering unspeakable horrors at every turn. There's also strong support from Desormeaux-Poulin and Gaudette, as well as Remy Girard as Nawal's kindly ex-boss (and executor of her will) Lebel and Allen Altman as a local notary who tries to help the twins.
The film is beautifully shot, with striking photography courtesy of cinematographer Andre Turpin, who makes the most out of some stunning desert landscapes. The film is also exceptionally well edited and Villeneuve orchestrates some genuinely shocking scenes, most notably a devastating attack on a bus and an early sequence that sets up the story of Jeanne and Simon's brother.
Aside from being around 15 minutes too long, the film's main problem is that it veers dangerously close to manipulative melodrama on several occasions (particularly during the bus attack sequence), heightened by an overly emotive score that lays it on a bit thick.
That said, the film does manage to pull off its emotionally devastating climactic revelations and you'll be hard pressed to leave the cinema without something in your eye.
Incendies is a well made, impressively structured drama that delivers both mystery-style thrills, devastating shocks and powerfully moving emotional moments. Recommended.