Incendies review

This French Canadian production from co-writer/director Denis Villeneuve (Maelstrom) is a familial mystery set in the Middle East of the past and present.  Following a reading of their mother Nawal’s will, Quebec-based twin siblings Jeanne and Simon are given two envelopes, one of which is for their father, who they thought was long dead, and the other for their brother, whose existence they were unaware of.  Headstrong Jeanne heads to the Middle East to uncover the secrets of her hidden heritage and is joined eventually by her reluctant brother.  Together they explore the brutal, secret history of “The Woman Who Sings”, as their mother is known over there, which leads to a climactic reveal that could give Oldboy a run for its money.

The Academy Award-nominated Incendies is an exploitation film hidden behind the veil of a foreign art house flick, complete with intermittent full-screen titles in bold red text.  Or, if you prefer, it’s a modern take on a Greek tragedy that leads me to wonder if those plays of old are actually the precursors to the twisty genre films that discriminating audiences have come to love.  In either case, the horrors of the Middle East are explored in extreme detail throughout the course of its 130 minute running time, which is a bit lengthy to appeal to mainstream audiences who would otherwise be attracted to this well-made mystery.  The answers to the twins’ questions may ultimately come across as silly to some, but Villeneuve treats all of his subject matter with an utmost seriousness and sincerity.  A welcome change of pace from the usual tales of terrorism.

Incendies opens today at the Ritz East.

Official site.

Author: Eric Bresler

Eric is the Founder/Site Editor of whose additional activities are numerous: Director/Curator of the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PhilaMOCA), founder of Tokyo No Records, the brain behind Video Pirates, and active local film programmer including the Unknown Japan screening series. He’s served as a TLA Video Manager, Philadelphia Film Society Managing Director, and Adjunct Professor in Cinema Studies at Drexel University. He is shy and modest. Email Eric.


  1. Loved the film, but can’t understand why a mother would choose to reveal her past to her children and leave them with the knowledge of who their monster father/brother was.
    The photography was extraordinary. Would like to know where the movie was filmed. Was it Lebanon?

  2. The point to letting her children know their past was to break the cycle of violence. Nihab was unable to discover his past leaving him open to the manipulation of others and the amoral creature he became. Nawal wanted to spare her twins from this fate and give them the chance to create a future with the knowledge of the violence and horror that was their past. Armed with this knowledge they were free to break from its bonds, they had a choice to create a life for themselves. In allowing everyone to discover the truth she forefilled her promise to all her children.

  3. I see your thinking and I bet that’s what the filmmakers were aiming for, but I’d argue that the twins were presented as having already created lives for themselves. Am I forgetting some French Canadian threat that was looking to manipulate them? What bonds were restraining their thankfully ignorant selves? The only manipulation I saw was that on the part of the mother herself who selfishly put her children on a quest towards devastating, life changing knowledge that, at least when I put myself in their shoes, would obviously be detrimental towards their living healthy “normal” lives. I’ve been referring to the film as “worthwhile exploitation”, I think that’s pretty accurate.

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