Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal) leaves a will to her fraternal twin children. She gives each of them a letter, one for their father and another for their half-brother and tells her children to give those family members the corresponding letters. Her son Simon (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) hates his mother and doesn’t want to follow the will’s instructions, while daughter Jeanne (Maxim Gaudette) is dutiful enough to do her part.
The film, essentially, would cross-cut between the siblings’ and their mother in her youth, both stories paralleling in the same, storied homeland. Thankfully the boring first five to ten minutes end with a gunshot killing the Christian Nawal’s Muslim refugee boyfriend Wahab. This act of violence gripped my attention for the rest of the film. They try to kill her too but her grandmother intercedes. Finding out that she’s pregnant, her grandmother takes her in to seclude her until delivery. She is then told to leave for a bigger town.
Azabal’s a regular player in films about the Middle East that get some recognition outside that region. The foreign-educated, rational Palestinian who has a quick relationship with a terrorist in Paradise Now. The guarded sister to the Iranian woman being romanced by Leonardo di Caprio in Body of Lies. She does some of the same things here as she would on those two movies, crossing borders, argue ideas, live through political conflict. The most popular image of the film, her face brushed with blood, fires burning behind her, suggest many things but subtle. Yes, the film has its decrescendos but the film still embodies the insanity of war within one woman. As she puts on different hats while trying to survive within the war-torn area, she convinces both as victim and victimizer. We’re thankful that she’s getting a vehicle in the form of this movie.
As this film fits well with Azabal’s characters it does the same with Denis Villeneuve’s other film Polytechnique, as both concern violence against women. The clean cinematography in the earlier film reflects the Canadian scenes in Incendies, while it’s more textural in the Middle Eastern scenes, the latter reflecting the violence in that area.
Adapted from Wajdi Mouawad’s play, the film is far away from a ‘theatre film,’ making me curious to compare the two versions. The Greek tragedy elements, especially with the shocking revelations, still resonates within this adaptation.