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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 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  

Fortunately for those of us living in materialist, rationalist Western societies, war is something which happens elsewhere and to other, unknown people. Aside from the political causes we may be given to wonder what it is like for an ordinary person like ourselves to live under such conditions of heightened insanity. Incendies answers that question.

Adapted from a play by Wajdi Mouawad it follows the story of 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 whose baby that she has from that union, is given up for adoption. The way into her story is set twenty years later in Quebec and follows Nawal’s grown children (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette) who have the task of uncovering their mother’s and thereby their own, past under the watchful eye of the public notary (Rémy Girard). He was their mother’s employer for 15 years and is now responsible for her last will and testament. Incendies is reminiscent in some respects of last year’s Sarah’s Key, which similarly was about the pursuit of uncomfortable truths, but it is a far more gruelling and uncompromising film.           ...        

Mouawad's play is no doubt the core of Incendies and it endows the film with a rivetting complexity that although not about the specifics of any particular conflict  brings home the reality of the unconscionable brutality that war both releases and engenders. Director Denis Villeneuve gives this form 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 ultimately is representation of religio-ethnic wars wherever they may occur. It is film-making that takes you into the heart 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 give an extraordinary performance in the lead, aging convincingly from a passionate young woman of 20 to a hollow shell of a 60 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 cinema at its best – demanding of both itself and its audience.  





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