Year: 2011

movie review

Language: French, Arabic

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin,Maxim Gaudette, Rémy Girard

This is one movie that kept me on edge throughout.  Adapted from Wajdi Mouawad’s play of the same name and based partly on the true story of Lebanese rebel Souha Fawaz Bechara, Incendies is set in an unnamed Middle Eastern country ravaged by the hatred between Christians and Muslims. In Canada, Jeanne(Poulin) and Simon(Gaudette) are suddenly thrust with some baffling wishes of their dead mother, Nawal Marwan (Azabal). They are helped by Nawal’s former employer, Jean Lebel (Girard) who is the executor of her will and they are told that they have to travel to her home country and find their father and brother. They thought their father was dead and their brother…well, they had no idea they even had a brother. To add to this confusion, Nawal asks to be buried face down, naked, with no epitaph and asks for her kids to fulfill her wishes, keep promises.

Simon is extremely upset and angry about his mother springing these rude shocks on them after her death, but Jeanne takes it upon herself to unearth the secrets, disentangle the mysteries of her mother’s life. She travels to the country of her mother’s birth (closely resembling Lebanon) with no clue except for an old photograph and a few people to meet. And slowly the story unravels. In a series of flashbacks and little stories, Nawal’s life is pieced together. Who was she? Who was their father? Who is this brother who has suddenly emerged? And what was Nawal’s life before Canada?

Jeanne has a hard time finding people who knew her mother. Or her story. The lone photo of her mother as a young woman is traced to have been taken in a prison in the south for rebels. She visits the prison and an old man who knew her mother. She is shocked to learn that her mother assassinated a prominent Christian leader and the reason for this is revealed through one of the flashbacks. Nawal, a Christian was in love with a Muslim boy and while trying to run away with him, her brothers shoot him dead. An honour killing. She is pregnant and in time, gives birth to a boy who is given up for adoption, with a tattoo on the back of his foot for identification. This is the brother Jeanne has to find.

As the story slowly reveals itself to you, more secrets tumble out. Nawal is known as ‘The Woman who sings’ in prison. Her spirit unshakeable, a torture specialist, Abou Tarek is brought it to rape her repeatedly till she breaks. She becomes pregnant and gives birth in prison….to twins. The story now takes some interesting, scary turns. Who is Abou Tarek? Who is their brother? I am awash with theories as I watch the movie.


I will be committing movie heresy if I reveal anymore. Watch this superbly crafted movie to know the truth behind the twins’ parentage and Nawal’s death.

 Verdict: A great mystery based partly on a true story.

Rating: 4/5

Hot: Will keep you guessing throughout.

Not: Rape as a method of torture. Heartbreaking.