Film Review: INCENDIES

Directed and Written by Denis Villeneuve, based on a play by Wajdi Mouawad
Starring Lubna Azabal, Milssa Desormeaus-Poullin, Maxim Gaudette
In French and Arabic

This French-Canadian film may never play in your neighborhood theater, but I am sure it will be available on DVD and Blueray soon. It is noir in its purest form. It’s a mystery, a suspense film, a family story, and, most of all, a war story.

PLOT After the death of their mother, Nawal, (Azabal) in Montreal, twins Jeanne (Desourneaus-Poullin) and Simon (Gaudette), are called into the office of her employer of many years and handed two envelopes. Jeanne is commissioned to find the father they never knew and give him one of the envelopes. Simon (Gaudette) is given a second one to deliver to the brother they never knew they had. The third one will be opened by them when the first two are delivered.

Jeanne travels back to the country her mother comes from (an unnamed Lebanon) and slowly uncovers the painful story of what brought her mother to Canada. In flashback, we see much of her story, which concerns the political and religious conflict between Christians and Muslims circa 1970. When Nawal, a Christian, falls in love with a Muslin, the die is cast for a lifetime on the run. The story unweaves in a painful and suspenseful way. War is everywhere for the next fifteen years and lives are cheap. I remember seeing scenes like these on TV twenty years ago: scenes of children shooting with real rifles, scenes of a country, once beautiful, ravaged by war,

To tell you much more would risk revealing the shocking conclusion of this film, We wondered at the end, why Nawal sent her two twentyish children on this mission, which was dangerous to them. Of course, the movie needed such a device to put it into motion. But was there something more?

If noir is about desperate people doing desperate things that seldom if ever turn out well, this is noir. Highly recommended.

Patti Abbott writes crime fiction short stories. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at She hopes you’ll join in.