Burnt Offerings: Canada’s foreign language film pick for this year’s Oscar race

Burnt Offerings: Canada’s foreign language film pick for this year’s Oscar race

Incendies, Canada’s foreign language film pick for this year’s Oscar race, exposes a family’s secrets and lies and delivers a gut-punching portrayal of war’s lasting traumas

(Photograph courtesy of Eone Films) 

A woman in an unnamed Middle Eastern country is pulled from a bus and forced to watch as her fellow passengers are massacred and the vehicle set aflame. The reason she’s spared? She is Christian and they are not. Unable to move, she stays on her knees until there’s nothing left to burn. This desert tableau is a scene in Incendies, the latest offering by Montrealer Denis Villeneuve (Polytechnique). The film charts a brother and sister’s quest to uncover the secrets of the woman from the bus—their mother, Nawal—after her death. A string of increasingly horrifying revelations lends her story the scope of a Greek epic, with Nawal serving as a mirror for countless women in wartime. Incendies is based on the play Scorched by Lebanese-Québécois writer Wajdi Mouawad, which was a smash hit for the Tarragon Theatre here in 2007 and 2008. So often, screen versions of theatrical sensations sag under the weight of their lovingly preserved texts, but Villeneuve’s adaptation brandishes a visual vocabulary that’s as strong and distinctive as Mouawad’s words. Working with ace cinematographer André Turpin and a cast that includes Quebec staple Rémy Girard and the extraordinary Belgian actor Lubna Azabal in the lead, Villeneuve has created something bold, lean and eminently cinematic. Elaborate digital wizardry (and its attendant eyewear) may be film’s favourite child these days, but the starkest images still have the most power.

FILM
Incendies
From Jan. 20
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