Incendies (2011)

Mammas and their dramas.

Canadian siblings, Jeanne (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette), aren’t necessarily mourning the death of their mother Nawal (Lubna Azabal), but they aren’t happy either. They are just trying to get past it all and move on with their lives, not understanding why their mother wasn’t always around for them when they were young and needed her the most. However, after reading her will and the stipulations they must go through in order to get her name engraved on her tombstone, they must just have their chance after all. Problem is, they’re going to have to venture out all the way into the Middle East to hand these letters of hers to their father (who they had no idea was alive), as well as their long lost brother (who they never even knew existed).

What director Denis Villeneuve does well with this approach of his, is that he blends both parts of this story (past and present), into one, cohesive flick. We know when the movie changes time-zones, why and where it’s going to end up next, but the way Villeneuve goes about doing so is what really catches us off-guard, yet, it never frazzles us. We always know what’s going on in this story, we have a general idea of where it’s going, and yet, even if we aren’t natives of the country it’s portraying, we still understand the political-context of the certain time and place. It shouldn’t make sense, and it should totally throw us into a world-win of lies, confusion and twists; yet, somehow, Villeneuve makes it all understandable for us to get a full grip on, and we’re better people for it.

Told you she was a bit nuts.
Told you she was a bit nuts.

That said, this movie is hard to sit-through, and I’m not just saying that because of it’s lengthy, 130 minute run-time; I’m saying that because this movie is downright depressing, and it rarely lets a smile crack from anyone. But I can’t really call that a “negative” per se, because that’s just how the story is; it isn’t meant to show us the happy, grand times in life that we’re all most likely going to have. It’s meant to show us that life, our present, our past, and our future, can, and will be, very shitty at times and it’s all a matter of if we come to terms with it is what really matters. Easier said then done, I know, and in this movie’s case, it’s a real, emotional task to sit-through. However though, like most lengthy, emotional-fests, if you can get through it all, fully get invested in this story and the characters, then you may find yourself a bit pleased and happy, that’s if you can get past some of the darker moments that this story offers us. And Jesus, it does get very dark at times, trust me on that.

Somehow though, that’s where Villeneuve’s skills as a director really shine, making you realize that you’re working with somebody who knows how to frame a story, and how to make it as interesting and compelling as humanly possible, without being too emotionally-draining that you barely have anything left by the time the credits roll. Instead, he continues to throw at us more twists, more ideas, and more themes about why this story matters, and why the idea of finding out where you and your family really come from is important. It’s funny to watch these two twins because you know one doesn’t care and just wants his mom to stop doing all of this crazy crap, while the other is interested enough to make it seem like it’s her duty to figure out what went down with her mommy, their brother and their daddy. But what makes it so funny is that it’s totally true. Terrible, but true.

I know I sure as hell wouldn’t care too much about what my mom or my dad went through when they were younger, and that’s just me. Call me stubborn, call me dense, call me what you will; all I know is that I’ve heard all that I’ve needed to hear from my parents and what they did back before I came strolling through their lives, but it still interests me a little bit. Not a huge amount, but just enough to where I know I could see myself running out there, having my own adventure of sorts, and discover revelations that may surprise me. They may not, but just the idea in my head that they may allow me to wake up and realize just who I was living with all my life, Hence why this story was so “funny” (bad choice of words, I know), because it’s all too true and realistic.

What also makes it easy to get past this flick’s inner-darkness is the cast, most notably Lubna Azabal as the damaged, later reasonably upset Nawal. What makes Nawal such a compelling character to see on the screen in the first place is that we aren’t introduced to her in a great, overly-theatrical way. We find out she dies, she leaves behind this odd maze for her kids to pile through, all in hopes that she’ll have her OWN NAME on HER OWN GRAVESTONE. Yeah, a bit of a nut-job if you ask me, but once we actually get a chance to see the type of person we’re working with here, you realize that she too was once a young, rambunctious and inspired kid trying to make a difference in this world of her’s, yet, also went down some questionable paths that maybe you or I wouldn’t have even bothered with. However, that’s our sob-story; this is her’s, and what a story it is!

Like I was saying though, our fondness of Nawal grows overtime and I don’t know if that’s because of how the story frames her character into being some sort of brave, tough-heartened soul, or because Azabal is so great at playing up her strong appearance, or a little bit of a mixture of both! Personally, I think both compliments go hand-in-hand, because not only do we got ourselves a very emotionally rich, but determined female character in our mitts here, but we also have an even more capable actress of giving her all of these mean and nasty emotions, while also showing her for the tortured soul she was. She never asks for our sympathy, but we give it to her anyway because we know of how she turned out, and how all of the choices and decisions she made in her early life, affected her latter life, and how she stuck to them, as hard as it may have been at that certain time. Good for on her part, both the character and Azabal who just has a compelling look to her to begin with.

"Only proves our mom still was a crazy bitch. Even in her most self-reflective hours."
“Only proves our mom still was a crazy bitch. Even in her most self-reflective hours.”

Just saying. Maybe it’s a weird a thing I have for Belgian women.

But it’s not like Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette are chopped-liver either, because both are equally as good/emotionally-investing as she is, they just don’t have much time to develop or really allow us to get to know them more than just the simple caricatures they have been given. However, I did like how both of them went about their discovering of who their mom really was, and how they reacted when they found out where they came from, who their daddy and their brother were, and where they are to this day. I would not even dare spoil it for you, but what I will say is how hard it is to watch them as they gather all of this information, let it soak in, and just allow the emotions to come pouring right out. But not in a way that’s over-the-top or completely melodramatic; it’s more subtle and honest, as if they don’t want to bother the others around them by how upset and hurting they truly are inside. Sort of like us all, in a way. Going through all sorts of pain and hurt on the inside, but on the outside, we’re all cool and collective, as if nothing’s happening and nobody has to worry about us. Okay, maybe I’m reaching a bit too far with this. Yeah, nope. I totally am. Okay, bye.

Consensus: While it sure won’t be the perfect watch with the family for “Sunday Funday”, Incendies still brings up plenty of interesting points about where you and you’re family come from, how certain dots fall into place along it’s own history and just who anybody we know and love, really are.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

That's right! Just cut all of her hair off and ruin another beautiful, Belgian woman! Way to go!!!!
That’s right! Just cut all of her hair off and ruin another beautiful, Belgian woman! Bastards!!

Photo’s Credit to:


  1. This film was just so intense and disturbing. There’s a lot of beauty in those images while it had this entrancing story about what was happening in those times.

  2. Depressing stuff! Its the signature of Quebec productions. Dramatic as hell all the time. Its one of the reasons this one is still sitting on my shelf. I need a day when I don’t feel like life is crumbling down on me to watch it. Great review! As depressing as the material is, I think I’m slightly more motivated to watch it now…plus, I really doubt anything can beat the extreme feelings/impact I had for the movie Aurore.

  3. What I like the most about this film is that it tears apart the initial gut reaction we have towards Nawal as a character. We go through the journey with her kids, and we begin to understand her and forgive how distant and unemotional she seemed to be towards them.
    The reveal at the end is one of the best, and most surprising endings I’ve seen in recent years. A perfect climax to a long and involving story that demanded that sort of big discovery to bring it full circle and appease our desire for answers.
    Great flick, one of the best of 2011. In fact, I believe it made my top 5.

    • I really liked that final twist and thought it was deserved. You’re right though. Didn’t love it like you, but I still have to say it was a hard experience to get through, but I’m glad I experience it nonetheless.

  4. Great review! You have to hand it off to Villeneuve for making such a tough story feel hopeful as the climax unfolds. One of my favorites of 2011… I look forward to seeing Villeneuve’s Hollywood crossover film “Prisoners” later this week 🙂

  5. Ha, the first sentence of your consensus made me laugh out loud. Yeah, definitely not one for the whole family to enjoy, but damn, I appreciate the hell out of this movie. It knocked the wind out of me in a way very few films do.

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