Frame to Frame

Cauterizing Family Wounds

It looks like the Academy actually got something right this year, nominating the Quebecois-made Incendies for Best Foreign Film.

Roughly, the title translates to “fire” and metaphorically speaking, it’s perfectly suitable.

It’s a scorching tale of how family can shape us, at times defying all logic, and the effect haunting secrets can have on the soul; Incendies is no romantic comedy.

In the film twin brother and sister, Simon and Jeanne Marwan (Maxim Gaudette and Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin) have just lost their mother, Nawal (Lubna Azabal). Their mother’s employer Jean Lebel (Remy Girard) calls on them as part of their mother’s will and two life-shattering truths are revealed; their father is alive and they have a brother.

Nawal has written two letters and the twins are presented with a mission: Jeanne needs to find their father and give him one letter and Simon needs to give the second letter to their brother. The peace of their mother’s soul is at stake and like Lebel says, ‘it’s a little unusual’. Of course, we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Principal focus is kept on the twins in the present day as they travel to the Middle East and try to piece together their mother’s life. As the layers slowly peel away, focus shifts back and forth between the present day and the past with Nawal’s unimaginable hardships before Canada.

The film’s source of power lies in the layers and how they are peeled. One particular example of this is a brilliantly directed single-take, which at its end reveals volumes about Nawal’s character.

Though it is the structure and pace of the script that is the film’s greatest achievement, the powerful performances (especially from the two leading ladies) and impressive cinematography are very strong here..

Most fulfilling of all is witnessing a film that is so solid at keeping all these elements together with no hints of oversaturation (See: Hollywood blockbuster).

While the film emotionally drains you, there are moments of thrilling suspense and much-needed light humor for good measure. Stylistically, a few questionable choices are present, like the use of Radiohead’s “You and Whose Army?” which lyrically makes complete sense but musically snaps you out of the experience.

But these are mere quibbles amongst the many superlatives that can describe this film. It balances the past and present timelines with universal motifs of war, racism, human compassion, hatred and maternal bond while the titular fire cauterizes familial wounds and leaves a permanent mark on the viewer.

Playing at the AMC with English subtitles, current DVD release contains no English Subtitles.