Incendies, which translates to Scorched in English, is a truly exciting piece of storytelling by Quebecois filmmaker Dénis Villeneuve.
The story opens with the reading of the last will and testament of Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal) to her grown twin children, Jeanne (Melissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette). The will contains instructions that stun them both, annoy Simon, and point them inevitably back to their mother’s native country, the allegorical Fuad.
We then live two parallel stories: first, the young Nawal is abruptly cast out by her family when a love affair with an ethnic refugee brings them shame. As political tensions heat up, she is on the wrong side of a civil war, burning with grief and desire for revenge.
Interspersed with Nawal’s story is Jeanne’s current-day journey to Fuad. Armed only with a decades-old black and white photograph of her mother, Jeanne attempts to retrace Nawal’s spiral from family cast-off to university idealist to political prisoner. Language and cultural barriers impede her search, but she presses steadily on, in the same way that her determined mother picked her way through the rocky terrain of the war-torn countryside decades before.
As the film reaches its midpoint, and dark revelations about violence, rape, and torture begin to emerge, the reluctant Simon accepts his role in solving the mystery that has been thrust upon them. He joins his sister in Fuad to pursue the identity of their father and the brother they never knew they had.
Throughout the film, Villeneuve builds suspense and momentum masterfully. As dark secrets come to light, Jeanne and Simon rely on the strength of family to come to terms with their mother’s history and their own. Brace yourself for a few disturbing moments, but be prepared for a gripping mystery and an excellent film.
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