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aka - Scorched
Canada/France 2010
Directed by
Denis Villeneuve
130 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars


Synopsis: The story of Quebecois non-identical twins, Jeanne and Simon, and their odyssey of discovery as they fulfil the stipulations of their Arab-born mother’s will - to find their father and brother and deliver a letter to each of them. 

Fortunately for those of us living in materialist, rationalist Western societies, war is something which happens elsewhere and to other, unknown people. It is our good fortune that we can only wonder what it is like to live under such conditions of heightened insanity. Incendies answers that question.

Adapted from a play by Wajdi Mouawad the film begins by introducing us to Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal), a young woman caught up in a civil war in an unnamed Middle-Eastern country. The mainspring of the conflict is the bitter hatred between Muslim and Christian Arabs. Nawal is a Christian whose Muslim lover is murdered by her brothers and the baby that she had from that union is given up for adoption.

Twenty years later she is living in Quebec working for a public notary (Rémy Girard) when she suffers a stroke and dies. Nawal now has two grown children (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette) and her unconventional last will and testamen,t of which the notary is also the executor, leaves them with the task of uncovering their mother’s and thereby their own, past.

Mouawad's play is no doubt contains the beating heart of Incendies and it endows the film with a rivetting complexity that although not about the oplitics of any particular conflict  brings home the reality of the unconscionable brutality that war both releases and engenders. Director Denis Villeneuve transposes the story to the big brilliantly, cutting between past and present as he gradually leads us to the awful truth of Nawal’s story. This strategy and the fictionalised setting means that we have to pay close attention to both the words and the visuals in order to piece together what is effectively a representation of religio-ethnic wars wherever they may occur. It is film-making that takes you into the reality of its world with tenacious but never tendentious commitment (one small slip was however was the sight of Azabal’s shaven leg as Nawal gives birth in prison).

Lubna Azabal gives an extraordinary performance in the lead, aging convincingly from a passionate young woman of twenty to a hollow shell of a traumatised sixty year old, whilst Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin is also very effective as her indefatigable daughter. Incendies is both a serious contender for inclusion amongst the best of anti-war films and also an example of film-making at its best – demanding of both itself and its audience. 










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