Incendies is a powerful and an intense film. It is stoic in nature. Very much restrained, yet, it have the impact which will shock you for a long time and leave you with strong and very strange emotions. The most grounded and simplest of films are sometimes most disturbing and shocking. And Incendies is indeed shocking. It doesn’t show us anything fictional or out of the world or fantastical, it is pretty much real, and it shows perhaps exactly how it might be in reality and that’s the real horror. The story is fictitious but it is part of actual reality happening in the world. These things are pretty much real and do happen, and maybe also in an exact manner as Villeneuve have shown us here.
The things are made complicated but they are actually not. This is as a straightforward film as it can get. The timeline is perhaps confusing, but when the film is over and the mystery and the cause of grief of the central character is revealed, it becomes impactful, tragic, unbearable, painful and utterly shocking. Shocking is a keyword here. It is indeed really shocking.
The film shows two stories simultaneously. Things don’t make sense until nearly half of the film. Though it pretty much immerses you into this utterly bleak and cruel world. The film starts with twin siblings at the will reading of their deceased mother. Her will is strange and her last wish, startling. She leaves two letter for the twin siblings. The daughter is required to deliver her letter to the father she never knew her entire life. And the brother have to deliver his letter to the brother he never knew he had. Now the son is not willing to act on such strange request of her mother, who thought his mother went little mad, secluded in her last years. And he pretty much have became numbed and bitter because of his relationship with his mother in her those painful days. But the daughter is pretty much sure that her mother is not what her brother thinks. She was a very intelligent women. Of extraordinary mental strength and unexplainable power, and some strange aloofness about her. And then the daughter sets out on a painful, revelatory and utterly heart wrenching journey to carry out the last wish of her mysterious mother, who is no longer alive.
And what a life changing journey! The central feature of the film is its intensity and at the same time being so subtle and being only suggestive rather than using some obvious and narrow, simple means and techniques. The narrative structure, unusual, but is effective. The more straightforward and simple narrative would have had ruined many things. We peel each and every detail, information one by one. With Jeanne, we get to know about Nawal, and each little discovery about Nawal shows what she was, and what she had been through. There are two parallel narratives going on at the same time. And these narratives meet at a single focal point and then the whole devastating, shameful past is front of us, naked. It is revelatory and utterly ridiculous, painful to accept, yet it has to be accepted.
Film is such powerful medium. And Incendies is an extra ordinary example of it. It is powerful, restrained and compelling film. The coincidences and revelation might seem implausible. But they have strange gripping, sad reality about them. And the reveal comes off as such a suprise, and it is hinted so subtly as well, that it shakes you to the very core. Making you completely spellbound.