Secrets build themselves into burdens across geography and time, yet they never vanish until they are uttered. This is a movie about the healing power of brutal secrets that save people from beyond death and help survivors move on. Based on Wajdi Mouawad's play of the same name, Incendies (2010) is a drama that revolves around a mysterious voyage a brother and a sister take to the end of the world to fulfill their dead mother's wish and their destinies.
Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2011, the movie lost to In a Better World, another exquisite drama about violence, families and the withering power of secrets. The poster above is inspired from one of the most excruciating scenes in the movie, where a bus full of slaughtered Muslims -men, women and children- is burnt to the ground. This savage gesture reflects upon the burning fate of humanity and the brutality somehow shapes the destiny of the movie's main character, Narwal Marwan. She is a Lebanese woman, who, upon dying of a stroke, asks her twin children not to properly bury her body until they find their husband and their brother. Her dying wish is imparted upon them by their mother's former employer, Jean Lebel, a notary for whom she had worked in Canada, for the last 18 years, before her sudden death.
Director Denis Villeneuve tells an honest and intelligent story which, despite its predictability, doesn't fail the viewer. Present and past intermingle in an atrocious account of war practises and the way history is violently imprinted on people's memory. The performances are remarkable, excellent acting of talented people who look, act and feel as average folks, yet manage to render a wide range of emotions. The one that sticks to you is the character superbly played by the Belgian-Moroccan actress Lubna Azabal. Narwal is a victim of war, of history, of life itself. Deprived of her maternal rights, the love of her man, the right to education, her humane needs, subject to violence and brutality, she is an innocent young woman turned into a heartless criminal, a devoted believer turned into a raped Prisoner No. 72, "the woman who sings" herself out of misery, broken dreams and back into despair.
Her humanity prevails and she finds it in her heart to forgive her wrong-doers and herself the past that haunted her through the love for her children and the truth. Is truth liberating in death as it is in life? Some would argue. The notary Lebel, who takes his mission almost too seriously, is the voice of reason who persuades the twins to pursue the mystery. As any other life-changing quest, Jeanne and Simon's voyage across the world brings them no joy or healing, yet it is a road that needs to be taken to close a circle. Gaining a sense of identity and belonging for themselves, much painful as it might be, feels like walking into a Greek tragedy where all mortals are at the hand of the merciless fate.
There is a painful song at the beginning of the movie that feels like tearing your limbs apart; it opens on a room full of young boys getting ready to become little soldiers and having their heads shaved, one of whom pierces your heart with his fearless eyes. The eyes of humanity on the loose.