Inspired by a play by Lebanese-Canadian writer Wajdi Mouawad, Incendies is a powerful reminder of the senselessness of war, in which hatred of the other side becomes a justification for cruelty and murder. As Roger Ebert said in his review of Incendies, “People who were not murderers in their nature killed others and justified it, on both sides, in the names of their gods. And when enough people had died, they no longer needed their gods, because they sought personal or tribal revenge.”
Twin sister and brother Jeanne and Simon are called together in Montréal after the death of their mother, Nawal (Lubna Azabal). Their mother’s longtime employer and friend hands them two sealed envelopes which Nawal has asked them to deliver. Jeanne’s letter is to be given to the father they never knew, and thought was dead. Simon’s is for the brother they didn’t know they had.
Jeanne leaves for a country much like Lebanon. Simon, who does not want to get involved, doesn’t leave until later. They are plunged into a world completely different from the one in Canada to which they have become accustomed. Gradually, through their encounters with locals and through flashbacks from Nawal’s point-of-view, we learn that Nawal was a Christian who fell in love with a Muslim and became engulfed by violence and hatred before fleeing to Canada.
Throughout the film, there are flashbacks to a single incident in which Nawal takes her children to a public swimming pool in Montréal and suddenly becomes catatonic. She never reveals to Jeanne and Simon what triggered her shock, and we do not discover her secret until the end.
Director Denis Villeneuve later made his way to Hollywood and gained another Academy Award nomination for Best Director for Arrival.