A year ago ensconced in a small alternate theater I witnessed one of the most emotionally charged and riveting plays I had ever seen; “Scorched” by Wajdi Mouawad. It is a present day tragedy, pounding one’s sensitivities at Sophocles, Euripides decibels; the ending permanently chiseled on my consciousness.
“Incendies” is the film version, magnificently transferred from stage to screen by French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve. This is a movie for those unafraid of being voyeurs to the scorching, conflagration of a family devastated but not wholly consumed by the flames.
Twins, Jeanne and Simon Marwan (Melissa Desormeaux, Maxim Gaudette) after the death of their mother, Nawal (Lubna Azabel) are given letters to present to a brother, whose existence they were unaware of, and to a father they presumed dead. It is their pilgrimage into their mother’s past that brings eventual enlightenment and painful realization to their lives.
This pivotally, brilliantly performed story is a metaphor for cultural, religious differences resulting in “man’s inhumanity to man”; that a cross, star of David, burqa, symbols of religious preference result in evil of unmitigated proportions.
The location is fictional but reminiscent of Beirut, Lebanon in the 1970’s. The landscape brown, barren, bereft of growth, as the scenes blend past and present scenarios; the genius of the cinematography viscerally seizes the viewer, we breathe the dust, choke on the fumes of dying fires, stumble on the detritus of once viable streets, now the refuge of scavenging rodents, dogs, destitute, parentless children.
“Incendies” is an epic tour de force, transcending the vicissitudes of one family; translating for the viewer the transparency of insidious narrowness, blindness of cultures whose existence thrive on the elimination of those factions whether religious, cultural, gender- related that differ from their creed, commandments. Sadly today, in the twenty-first century the words of Edmund Burke ring true “evil triumphs because good men do nothing”. “Incendies” is profound in vivisecting atrocities known but ignored; evil, guised in many forms. But a will of steel from a “woman who sings”, rain fortitude, hope, and can ultimately squelch the nefarious and prevail.