Monday, December 5, 2011


A woman dies with her story untold. Her twin children, Jeanne and Simon, sit before the notary as he reads  her will. She was his secretary of eighteen years, and the moment is a poignant glimpse into a sacred moment for this family. The woman, Nawal, has a strange revelation and request of her children. For the daughter, she is to go find the father they never knew, believed to be dead but apparently alive. She is to hand him a sealed letter. For her son, he is to find a brother they never knew they had and do the same.

What follows is a thriller, a drama, and a quest for the truth. Nawal's story is told in flashbacks interspersed with her children's pilgrimage that leads them to Lebanon to find their father and brother. She was a Christian born in a time of turmoil between the Christian and Muslim populations. I am sadly ignorant of the civil war that occurred in Lebanon, but Nawal's story tells us enough. Christians and Muslims killed each other, brutally and needlessly. This is the dark side of religious beliefs, and it was rather difficult for me to watch apparent Christians firing automatic weapons at women and children in the name of God.

To reveal any more of the plot of Incendies would be a disservice to both the audience and Nawal's tale. Hers is one that needs to be slowly revealed, the layers peeled back to reveal a horrifying and cathartic conclusion. Lubna Azabal portrays Nawal over the course of many years with gravitas, creating a character that has a story she must tell, even when death seems to close the door on her history. The flashbacks are perfectly intertwined with the twins' journey, with some timely crimson titles over the screen revealing each new chapter in the story.

Maybe more than any other recent film, Incendies stirred up desires to know the history of my own story, the one of my adoption. (Another other film that prompted these feelings was Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies, another film about long-hidden family history being suddenly revealed.) I don't know my birth mother's story. It could be entirely unremarkable. But her choice began the course for a new, hope-filled narrative: mine. My birth mother could now be a criminal, a dysfunctional and toxic person, an emotional or financial burden. She could be dead for all I know. Regardless, she is a human being with a history, and learning of our origins may help us define our futures.

"Death is never the end of the story. It always leaves tracks," says the notary employer and fellow sojourner in Incendies. Around two thousand years ago, the climax of all of human history came in the death of one man, a perfect man, dying at the hands of torturers. Three days later, death was not the end of his story, nor ours. He is with us, even to the end of the age.

1 comment:

  1. Wow Joel, This is some commentary. Now I need to see this. We all have a history, "his story"
    I learned of some of mine that I never knew growing up.