Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

The Monologue

Incendies revolves around the limbo and blindness experienced by the twins in Montreal. They are summoned to their mother’s former employer’s office following her recent demise. Their mother had served him around 20 years ago before escaping the turmoil in their Lebanon-like country. She leaves behind a letter for her children. In the letter, she implores Jeanne to find and give her inheritance to the father they never knew. Similarly, she instructs Simon to do the same for a brother they are unaware of.

The thriller plot of Incendies is bold and gripping, as Denis Villeneuve goes beyond mere thrills. The film aims to shed light on the irrationality of hatred based on religious differences. The subject’s relevance is evident as the film imparts the lesson that one should not harbor hatred simply due to accidental circumstances of birth. Nawal, the mother of the twins, is portrayed as a woman with a profound and multi-layered perspective as she writes the two letters.

Nawal Marwan

Jeanne embarks on a journey to the Middle East to fulfill her mother’s wish, while Simon remains upset in Canada until he comes to understand how “one plus one equals one.” Through a flashback of Jeanne’s conversation, the audience gains insight into Nawal’s life. Nawal, born a Christian, fell in love with a Muslim man. Tragically, after her boyfriend’s death, Nawal’s life becomes an inspiration for a political, religious, and romantic odyssey.

The people surrounding Nawal were not inherently murderers, but they became killers in the name of God, on both sides of the conflict. When countless lives are lost, the significance of God diminishes. On the day of the massacre, for Nawal Marwan, fanatics spread violence and take up arms widely. In one such instance, Villeneuve shows an assassin using a rifle to kill a young teenager.

Incendies, adapted by Villeneuve from Wajdi Mouawad’s stage play, presents a poetic monologue intertwined with intense action, offering a compelling visualization of the story.

The Eerie Yet Poetic Opening Scene

The opening sequence of Incendies is unsettling, disturbing for a particular audience, and filled with a sense of limbo. It slowly fades from black to reveal an arid mountain landscape. Through a window frame and pan, it gradually unveils a group of boys. Some adults are seen shaving their heads, while others stand around holding rifles. Accompanied by the opening hum of You And Whose Army? by Radiohead, the sound slowly intensifies in the background, adding to the unease.

The most harrowing twist occurs when the fate of the children is left hanging in suspense. The scene cuts, leaving the audience in anticipation of some form of resolution on multiple levels. The subsequent shot shows a row of filing drawers towering over and replacing the shell of a burnt country building. It transitions to the face of a boy—miserable, frightened, unknown, yet defiant. The contrast between the drama of war atrocities and the cold, clinical environment is profound. Denis Villeneuve skillfully juxtaposes themes of stress and power, creating an unexpected yet familiar twist between a chaotic, war-torn homeland and the chilling reality of exile.

The Logic Game

The base story of Incendies adapts a noir style of limbo and blindness, set in a Middle Eastern country. It provides a sorrowful justification for how male characters are seemingly destined to kill. While the film is situated in a Middle Eastern setting, it carries a contemporary feel. It incorporates battle scenes and explores taboo encounters, such as merciless torture or rape, which does not make Nawal any less compelling. The audience comprehends why she acts the way she does. Villeneuve’s direction does an adequate job of clarifying a blurred event. Through cryptic dialogue, he unveils a surprising secret at the film’s end. The revelation is quite successful in terms of strict logic. However, as Roger Ebert pointed out, logic can be overlooked when the goal is a revelation. The revelation brings to light the sadness of murder and the pathology of the world’s cruelty, akin to consuming glass.

The audience may assume that the twins have a right to know the truth about their father and brother, and Nawal could have conveyed it directly. However, by sealing the letters, she assigns them a mission. The motive for Jeanne and Simon’s journey is essentially a device but remains undisturbed. The film advances the story with unexpected and impactful results.

The Fire That Scorched the Building

When it comes to contrast, the audience connects two spaces of articulation between the Radiohead sequence and Jean Lebel’s stretch. The camera slowly zooms in on Lebel’s expression, and the parallel panning motion prompts the audience to associate these moments in a formal pattern of echoes. By deepening the more linear opening of the film’s plot, it becomes inextricably tied to the intricate web of meaning traces. These marks persist in the shattered lives visualized through repeated images of vehicle shells and burned buildings. Incendies can be translated as “scorched,” referring to a place where a fire has occurred. The coverage extends beyond a trauma center in the Middle East to the seemingly everyday lives of the characters in Montreal. The search to send letters to their unknown father and brother takes them to a loosely unnamed country. However, it is unmistakably based on the Lebanese native Mouawad, the playwright of the film. His family left at the start of the civil war when he was seven years old, prompting him to review the tragic history of war while also uncovering a family drama of tragic dimensions.

The Villeneuve Arithmetic Formulas

In holding a basic principle, the Villeneuve scenario compresses a play of character and exposition, presenting a series of revelations that aim to shatter Nawal and her three children. However, this compression also opens the film to accusations of manipulation, regardless of the built-in preparation for encountering broken glass midway through the playground. The blindness of Incendies plays on the audience’s expectations and fears, shamelessly manipulating Nawal’s suffering and subjecting her to an endless limbo of revelations. Each revelation, little by little, becomes worse than the last, pulling the rug out from under the audience at the end.

When “one plus one equals one,” it opens two letters addressed to his two identities: the father and the son. The messages of the letters, apart from going against the instincts of the film’s narrative, were drowned in a wave of deep emotional punishment during the filming of the feature length. Even though Nawal has somehow gone beyond refusing to enter into the emotional vortex, melodrama takes audiences through a completely different channel. It is no longer imitating political arguments in understanding the mathematical cycle of Villeneuve’s violence. Instead, it is about rejecting a Villeneuve formulation. Mouawad cloaks an event in his home country in the garb of classic tragedy through his own instincts, as well as for Villeneuve, through the power of figurativeness.

The Implicit and Explicit Elements

While Villeneuve maintains a contemporary interconnectedness, he illustrates a more diffuse sense of dramatic division. In two moments of large-scale war, namely the bus burning and the massacres in camps, he closely reproduces the formative moments in the lives of the Lebanese brothers. He makes explicit the many divisions between Christians and Muslims, implicitly present in Mouawad’s work. In the central bus scene, Nawal emphasizes her Christian identity by showing her cross. In fact, it is a simple gesture, but Villeneuve uses it to explore the conflicts both on a large scale in the Middle East and the more intimate conflicts within closed and open spaces.

He establishes a division in spatial terms by setting the main crossing point on a bridge. He creates a northern and southern border, alongside the Christian and Muslim divides, and presents a more subtle contrast from Montreal to Nawal’s home country. Visually, the difference is immeasurable, with a stark contrast between darkness and depression, yet it is full of the sounds of chirping insects and the wind blowing through the trees.

The Prediction of Confusion

Jeanne and Simon’s confusion, and perhaps that of the audience as well, slowly subsides when faced with a historical entanglement presented without context. Reflecting on the situation is not an easy task. However, Jean Lebel serves as a conventional narrative device in the film. For the most part, he fluently reads the letters in the mother’s voice, but also carries out the instructions and dictations. As a result, he knows the final twist and acts as an objective observer in the sanctity of his profession. It is possible that Lebel himself wrote the letter, following a typical but overthinking melodramatic convention.

Incendies could have been perceived as a silly film in the context of a melodrama. However, it is undeniable that there is no more predictable storyline. The film, under Villeneuve’s direction, refuses to completely rule out the possibility of the mother writing the letter. The blindness ending of Incendies honestly does not provide a clear resolution and leaves many elements in limbo. It does not fully absolve the central antagonism, allowing it to remain free. However, this action proves to be a double-edged quality, serving as a sign of the film’s success. It becomes a film that embraces globalization theory and political tragedy.


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