Incendies - Blu-ray Review

'A scene with Jeanne initially being welcomed, then ostracised, at a meeting of local women is heartbreaking. Much of the rest of the film is harrowing.'

There's a simply mystery set up at the start of Denis Villeneuve's Incendies, which shows just how easy it can be to catch an audience's attention. In a notary's (Rémy Girard) office, Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) are hearing their mother's will. They are handed two envelopes. One, they are told, must be given to their father, the other to their brother. Jeanne and Simon had previously thought their father dead and do not have another sibling.

So begins Villeneuve's film about family and religion and how those two things combine in the melting pot of the middle east, suffering under harsh conflicts. The country which Jeanne and, eventually, Simon travel to to find their family is never named (although Wikipedia citations suggest it is based on Lebanon) but the conflicts which happen there could represent similar events across so many lands. Tanks in the streets behind big walls. Death to you or the man next to you based on the symbol you wear round your neck. It's a familiar, depressing, story and through it Villeneuve explores the effect on a small family unit.

Nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2011, the director too deserved some recognition. Based on a play, the scope of Incendies never feels as though it is something which belongs on a stage. Villeneuve plays with chronology and location to great effect, swapping the focus in the first hour or so of the film between Jeanne, lost and not speaking the language and her mother (Lubna Azabal) in the same location many years earlier. As Jeanne discovers her families history and makes it to the places her mother was many years before, the effect of switching between the two is compelling and the point at which we are allowed to discover things perfect. Characterisation too is premium. A scene with Jeanne initially being welcomed, then ostracised, at a meeting of local women is heartbreaking. Much of the rest of the film is harrowing.

As the film moves on, its central message of family begins to be reflected in Villeneuve's form, as we move towards a conclusion that tells us 'being together is everything'. Jeanne does well on her own, and for much of Incendies, this is a film about feminine discovery, as much as it is family. But the real revelations only start to show themselves when the whole band, including Lebel, the notary, are together and working towards a common goal. In such a setting - where small divisions birth horrible atrocities - that's a powerful message.

Somewhere towards the start of the third act, Incendies offers up one of many reveals, one that you will see coming from a mile off. It doesn't matter. The joy in watching this is not in the satisfaction of spotting a 'twist', it is in squeezing every last drop of interest from a heartfelt, potent, compelling story.

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