Friday, May 6, 2011



Incendies The good, bad, and ugly about religion, as well as the politics around it, have been debated since as early as the religions are created. Those debates often involve wars and killing of human lives. I agree most points made in Christopher Hitchens's controversial book "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," and I always fantasize a world that only exists in the lyrics of John Lennon's "Imagine."

Therefore, it is natural for me to resonate with the tragic story when I am only half way into Canadian director Denis Villeneuve's powerful Oscar nominated film "Incendies" (Canada 2010 | in French | 130 min.). However, by the end of the film, the killing and hatred initiated by religion recede to the background, and an extraordinary woman's personal tragedy takes the center stage, with an operatic gravity that can be matched by the scale in Shakespeare's plays.

The film begins with the death of a Mid-east woman Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal) who lives in Canada with her twin children Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette). Jean Lebel (Rémy Girard), the executor of Nawal's will, hands each of the twins a sealed envelop— Nawal asks Jeanne to deliver the letter to her father she has never met, and Nawal asks Simon to deliver the letter to his brother who never exists to him.

The journey of seeking their father and brother not only unveils Nawal's haunting past, but also allows the twins to truly know their mother for the first time.

Lubna Azabal as Nawal Marwan in INCENDIES

Like Wajdi Mouawad's play which the film is based on, director Denis Villeneuve deliberately makes the story's Mid-east location ambiguous, in order to make the film apolitical. That appears to be an artificial stroke for avoiding the obvious unrest in the Mid-east today.

However, on the other hand, it makes another point more prominent—just like the blood shed and war in the film, many political turmoil and conflicts around the world today (and in the past) are rooted in people's hatred toward others who have different religious believes. That echoes back to the title of Christopher Hitchens's book, on a very personal level in Nawal's tragic story.

Without a doubt, this gripping film should have won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

"Incendies," a Sony Pictures Classics release, opens on Friday, May 6, 2011 at Bay Area theaters. It was also shown at the 54th San Francisco International Film Festival.


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