The Mindful Bard – Incendies

Books, Music, and Film to Wake Up Your Muse and Help You Change the World

Film: Incendies (Sony Pictures Classics 2011)

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Source: Based on the play by Wajdi Mouawad

Cast: Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette, Rémy Girard

I Have Nothing to Say

You simply have to see this film; there’s no way to adequately communicate its splendour to you. But while I have you here, I can tell you that It’s one of the most artistically perfect, profound, realistic, and gruelling films I’ve ever witnessed.

A young unwed mother in southern Lebanon is forcibly separated from her son. She searches fiercely for him all her life. When he’s old enough, he searches equally fiercely for her. She later has twins and is living in Canada, but in her will she asks that these twins find both their brother and his father in the massive pile of shards left by the endless cycles of attacks and reprisals in the Middle East.

Incendies is based on Scorched, a stage play by Lebanese writer and director Wajdi Mouawad, who has been an important fixture in the Canadian theatre scene for a number of years now. Denis Villeneuve’s film interpretation here is clearly a labour of love. The soundtrack is a mesmerizing mix of Middle Eastern and Western music, and the cinematography is so effective you can practically smell the chipped paint on the ruined walls and the rosemary breeze wafting across the desert. And then there’s the acting.

Lubna Azabal does an amazing job of portraying the indomitable Nawal, who loses everything that matters most to a woman and in the end discovers a horrific truth?yet makes a response to it which very nearly articulates an answer to human suffering.

But the shining performance in this movie is that of Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, who plays Nawal’s daughter, Jeanne. A cool-thinking mathematician, she has reserve and resolve that are formidable but never chilling, and when we see her emotions finally break out, they’re all the more salient in light of the restraint She’s exhibited.

The special features include interviews with the ordinary people who played bit parts. Many of these are Palestinian refugees, and their interviews reveal chilling reminders of the kind of uncompromising fierceness That’s borne of generations of suffering from what amounts to cultural PTSD?a network of hate constructs that lead ordinary people to want to kill and destroy not only their enemies but those whom they are biologically designed to love and protect.

A group of women in the village, for example, insist that if their daughters became pregnant out of wedlock, they would simply have to kill them, and the babies too, because of the stain on the family honour. There are also children and men talking about the wars they’ve lived through and fought in, and the family members whose deaths they’ve witnessed. Many of them have an obvious problem with the violent scenes they are now enacting.

Clearly, holding hands and having a sing-along is out of the question.

What response can a movie make to a world in which mothers want to kill their children and grandchildren, where young boys are taught to kill, and where cycles of vengeance appear as if they cannot be stopped until all are dead?
None. But here is a film that looks the brute force of human cruelty full in the face, and lovingly caresses it.

Incendies fulfills eight of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence; 3) it harmoniously unites art with social action, saving me from both seclusion in an ivory tower and slavery to someone else’s political agenda; 4) it is about attainment of the true self; 5) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 6) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; 7) it gives me tools of compassion, enabling me to respond with compassion and efficacy to the suffering around me; and 8) it makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomenon, making living a unique opportunity.