This latest blast of unwavering miserablism from Denis Villeneuve, Oscar-nominated and everything, reaches for something deeper than mere stroppy melodrama. Adapted from a 2003 play by Wajdi Mouawad, Incendies (“scorched”) obliquely chronicles the adult life of Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal), an Arab woman living in Canada whose death sends her two children to find the father they believed was dead and a half-brother they never knew existed. The siblings, twins Jeanne and Simon (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette), travel to Nawal’s war-ravaged, unnamed Middle Eastern homeland, where their investigative legwork intertwines with flashbacks of their mother’s brutal past. This skewed chronology serves a narrative purpose, albeit an obfuscatory one, and cinematographer André Turpin’s lushly Kubrickian tracking shots are as noteworthy as Désormeaux-Poulin and Gaudette’s bond is understated. But while the symbolic duality threaded throughout the story (most notably in the twins’ fractious relationship) is apt and inspired, it ultimately amounts to scaffolding for an exploration of war’s viscious ironies that never quite develops. Instead, Nawal’s travails are more in the vein of a Latin American soap opera than Greek tragedy, and Jeanne and Simon’s climactic, genuinely god-awful discovery plays like artistic sleight-of-hand rather than the profoundly tautological revelation it aspires to be.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 20, 2011