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Film / Incendies

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Incendies is a 2010 Canadian mystery-drama film written and directed by Denis Villeneuve. Adapted from Wajdi Mouawad's play of the same name, Incendies stars Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette and Rémy Girard.

Nawal, a dying Middle Eastern woman living in Montreal, leaves separate letters to her twin children to be read once she passes away. Jeanne is to deliver hers to the father the twins never knew, and Simon is to give his to the brother they never knew they had. The siblings travel to the Middle East separately, where they each experience acts of brutality, uncover a startling family history, and have revelations about themselves.


This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Karma: In the play, Abou Tarek was arrested for war crime which is how Nawal finds out he is her son. In the movie he is a refugee in Canada, living near his mom/victim unaware.
  • Adaptational Personality Change:
    • Notary Lebel is a Motor Mouth with a more comedic role in the play, while he is more solemn in the movie.
    • The Cold Sniper Child Soldier in the movie is a far cry from the Laughably Evil Mad Artist in the play, mostly because of Pragmatic Adaptation since Nihad/Abou's silly antics in the play is a hint that he is Nawal's son, with a plot point being that Nawal didn't give him a tattoo but a clown's nose, which was Adapted Out for being too ridiculous.
  • Adaptational Wimp:
    • Downplayed, but Jeanne has less agency than in the play, and instead of being a teacher, she is an assistant to the real teacher (who helps get her to the unnamed Middle Eastern country).
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    • Simon's amateur boxing is also removed.
  • Affably Evil: Warlord Chamseddine has no ill will toward the children and helped Nawal escape the country.
  • Artistic License – Biology: A tattoo received at birth would become very blurry and faded over several decades, but the dots that Nihad receives on his heel remain dark and sharply defined into his middle age.
  • Awful Truth: One plus one... Can it make one? Translation: Can our father and our brother... be the same person?
  • Badass Bureaucrat: Nawal is a more broken example, but she's an extremely strong war survivor who works as a secretary in Canada. A clearer example is notary Lebel, who takes Nawal's wishes very seriously and insists that Simon and Jeanne both follow them, and accompanies them into the country where they can find out the truth.
  • Black Sheep: Nawal. When Jeanne reveals that she's the daughter of Nawal, her distant family members say that Nawal brought shame to their family and kick Jeanne out of their house.
  • Blatant Lies: When Jeanne asks about her Black Sheep mother, a disapproving family member states that she's "too tired" to answer any more questions and simply turns her head away.
  • Blood Knight: Chamseddine describes how Nihad was crazed for battle.
  • Break the Cutie: Abou Tarek tries this on Nawal by raping her repeatedly in prison, but she doesn't lose her will to go on.
  • Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: Nawal has some specific requests about her burial which Simon finds ridiculous.
  • Child by Rape: The reveal that Jeanne and Simon are fathered by a prison rapist called Abou Tarek. But that's not even the full story.
  • Child Soldiers: Nihad and his fellow orphans were converted into child soldiers during the war. He's seen sniping other children, presumably more child soldiers.
  • Cold Sniper: Nihad is shown dispassionately picking off children with a sniper rifle.
  • Death of a Child: A small girl is shot in the back by terrorists and a boy is killed by a sniper who turns out to be Nawal's son.
  • Death by Adaptation: Nawal's first love isn't killed in the stage play.
  • Death by Despair: It's not clear how much time passes between Nawal's collapse at the pool and her death, but it doesn't appear to be very long, implying that the shock of the event led to a rapid decline.
  • Determinator: The prison guard notes that "The Woman Who Sings" gained notoriety among the guards for defying them with her singing and never broke under torture.
  • Distinguishing Mark: Nawal's son Nihad is identifiable by the tattoo of three vertical dots on his heel, which he received shortly after birth.
  • Dramatic Irony: The audience learns well before Jeanne and Simon that they were born inside the prison and had a rapist as their father.
  • Epilogue Letter: The movie finished with Nawal's Voiceover Letter to her children.
  • Flies Equals Evil: Right after the terrorists have killed the innocents on the bus, there are flies all over the corpses.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Jeanne is responsible, Simon is foolish.
  • Forbidden Love: Nawal's Eastern Orthodox Christian family strongly disapproves of her lover, Wahab, a Palestinian Muslim refugee, and murder him. They then attempt to honour-kill Nawal herself before her grandmother intervenes. This relationship is pretty much the catalyst for the entire plot.
  • Gasp!: When Jeanne figures out the Awful Truth, her Heroic BSoD is signaled by a gasp of pure horror and shock.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Nawal understandably doesn't respond well to the Awful Truth that her son is her rapist.
  • Heroic BSoD: Nawal suffers one after the little girl gets killed by the terrorists. She suffers a fatal one when she runs into her long-lost son at the swimming pool in Montreal... and finds out he is the same man who tortured, raped, and impregnated her during her imprisonment at Kfar Ryat.
  • I Have Many Names: Nawal's son has gone by three names: Nihad of May, Abou Tarek, and Nihad Harmonni.
  • It's a Small World, After All: The plot relies on two Contrived Coincidences:
    • Nawal just so happens to be tortured and impregnated by her long-lost son Nihad.
    • Nawal and Nihad both happen to flee to the same area of Canada and cross paths in such a way that allows Nawal to see his bare heel.
  • Mama Bear: Nawal, especially to her first son. She walks across half of the country looking for him. The anonymous woman who attempts to give her daughter to Nawal to save her from being killed by the terrorists also seems to be one, which doubles as Foreshadowing.
  • Madness Mantra: Simon repeating "One plus one makes two" over and over after learning from warlord Chamseddine that his father and his brother are the same person.
  • Meanwhile, in the Future…: The story cuts back and forth between Nawal's plotline in the 1970s and Jeanne and Simon's investigation in the present.
  • Mommy Issues: Nawal was really distant and Simon resented her for it.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: The story is set in an unnamed Middle Eastern country in a state of war between Christian and Muslim Arabs. It's heavily based on the Lebanese Civil War and in particular the story of prisoner Souha Bechara.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: Early on, we see Nawal in shock at a swimming pool, but we don't know what's actually going on. At the end, the scene is repeated and here, we learn that she has just seen her long-lost son/tormentor.
  • Parents as People: According to Simon, Nawal was a cold and distant mother throughout his and Jeanne's life, which he has always resented her for. Of course, she has a Freudian Excuse, what with the trauma and horror she has experienced in her home country having made her a harsher person in general. She didn't even want the twins, being children by rape and better off with their adoptive parents, but warlord Chamseddine convinced her otherwise.
  • Posthumous Character: Nawal. Her character is explored in a plotline that runs in parallel to her children's journey.
  • Retired Monster: Abou Tarek has long fled his life as a torturer and is now living as a simple janitor in Canada. His new life seems quiet and unremarkable.
  • The Reveal: The two people Jeanne and Simon searched for throughout the film, their father and brother, are revealed to be the same person.
  • Secret-Keeper: Several, but especially Nawal's grandmother (who helps Nawal to hide her pregnancy and have her son fostered), and Lebel. It's implied that he had some understanding of Nawal's huge secret, but abides by her wishes and keeps them secret until Simon and Jeanne discover it for themselves.
  • Show, Don't Tell: The two serious-looking men who escort Simon out of the hotel both set off the metal detector while the security guard ignores them. Without any dialogue, it's shown that Simon is in very dangerous company.
  • Silent Whisper: We don't hear what Nawal whispers to her boss on her death bed.
  • Silly Will: Simon thinks this of his mother's will. The notary assures him that Nawal wasn't crazy by the time she wrote it.
  • Stigmatic Pregnancy Euphemism: Nawal is forced to give her first child up for adoption and leave the village because of the shame she brought over her family by getting pregnant out of wedlock.
  • Surprise Incest: Abou Tarek raped his long-lost mother without realizing it. Many years later, Nawal identifies her son by his heel and her rapist by his face, driving her into catatonia.
  • Tragic Hero: Nawal, who boldly goes to find her son during a civil war. And she found him, she just never realised that she did.
  • Trauma Conga Line: The whole film for Nawal. Her first love is killed in an honour killing by her family, she becomes pregnant, she has to give up the baby, he dies during a civil war, she grows full of hatred for the right-wing leader due to this, tries to assassinate him, is raped in prison, gives birth to Jeanne and Simon, flees the country with them, then many years later, learns that their father is also her son. Damn.
  • Trunk Shot: Of the terrorists throwing Nawal into the trunk of a car after she assassinated their right-wing leader.
  • Voiceover Letter: Nawal's letters are voiced by herself postmortem.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • The Christian terrorists quickly figure out that the girl Nawal carries from the bus is not her own, but a Muslim. They tear her from her arms and gun her down.
    • Nihad is shown gunning down children with a sniper rifle.