The new film “Incendies,” from director Denis Villeneuve, has a strong message: Beware those you hate. Part thriller, part horror movie and part dissertation on religious hatred, this film will shock audiences to their cores.
A mother, Nawal (Lubna Azabal), dies and leaves two sealed letters for her adult twin children, Jeanne (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette). After the reading of her will, the siblings are astounded by the fact that they have a brother and their father is alive. Simon is instructed to deliver the letter to his brother, and Jeanne must give hers to her father.
Their journeys take them from their home in Canada to the Middle East, where Nawal was raised. Jeanne discovers that her mother, born a Christian, fell in love with a Muslim. In doing so, she brought shame upon her family. The remedy: Her brothers murder her boyfriend and force her to give up the child she’s conceived. Nawal leaves home, gets involved in religious politics, commits murder and winds up in prison, where she’s raped on a regular basis.
There are numerous horrific events that play out in this devastating yet enlightening film. Seemingly normal people are capable of atrocious behavior in the name of religion. Even children tote rifles with pictures of the Virgin Mary pasted onto them. Everyone justifies murder, including Nawal.
Simon and Jeanne, on their quest for the truth, find they’re barking up a dangerous family tree infested with maggots. There’s a “Chinatown” moment at the end, which forces both of them to alter their perceptions of love and hate.
Villeneuve’s film is as beautiful to watch as it is disturbing to absorb. The English translation for “incendies” is “scorched.” His camera manages to capture the scorched countryside as well as cities of the Middle East with alarming brilliance. Some scenes almost require sunglasses.
There are no heroes in “Incendies.” Christians are equally loving and brutal as Muslims. Villeneuve attempts to demonstrate that breaking the chain of anger is the only solution to these endless wars. In his explosive examination of three people who eventually do so, he supplies that elusive glimmer of hope.