Incendies Review: Denis Villeneuve’s Revered Foreign Language Film is an Emotional Gut Punch

Review: Incendies is an often compelling cinematic experience fueled by powerful performances, particularly Lubna Azabal’s tentpole portrayal of Nawal. It may not quite be Denis Villeneuve’s best movie, but it serves as a worthy introduction for one of the industry’s brightest filmmakers to the big stage.

incendies review denis villeneuve film 2010
Lubna Azabal in Incendies

Denis Villeneuve’s 2010 film, Incendies, has developed a devoted following after all these years, captivating cinephiles retroactively with its raw and visceral exploration of war’s enduring trauma and the lengths love can drive us to. While it may not occupy the top tiers of recent film history, its undeniable power lies in its execution and thought-provoking narrative.

The film begins with a potent premise: upon their mother Nawal’s (Lubna Azabal) passing, twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) inherit cryptic final wishes. Propelled by an urgent need to understand the secrets of their mother’s past, they embark on a life-altering journey to the war-torn Middle East. Their mission: uncover the identities of their unknown father and brother, two individuals Nawal had not mentioned were still alive, or even existed.

Denis Villeneuve orchestrates a beautifully constructed dance between past and present, seamlessly interweaving two separate timelines. We witness Nawal’s harrowing journey through conflict woven with love, loss, and unimaginable choices. Her raw portrayal, delivered with stunning nuance by Azabal, demands empathy and ignites questions about resilience in the face of unthinkable circumstances. And in the present, Jeanne and Simon grapple with their newfound reality, their discoveries echoing the emotional turmoil of their mother’s past. As they delve deeper, the movie’s emotional core intensifies, culminating in a few moments worthy of leaving a lasting mark.

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However, Incendies‘ middle section might test some viewers’ patience. The constant temporal shifts, while effective in building suspense, can feel disorienting at times. The film’s emotional intensity also walks a tightrope between poignant and melodramatic, prompting questions about its sincerity. Is it a manipulative tearjerker, or a profound exploration of familial bonds forged in the fires of conflict? The answer might depend on your tolerance for emotional heft.

And I found Incendies to have a few flaws like these. Its narrative complexity demands active engagement, and its emotional peaks might feel excessive for some. Yet, to dismiss it solely on these grounds would be a disservice to its strengths.

Incendies is a compelling cinematic experience. It’s fueled by powerful performances, particularly Azabal’s tentpole portrayal of Nawal. The exploration of family secrets and the lasting legacy of war, while emotionally charged, prompts reflection and discussion. While it may not reach the heights of Denis Villeneuve’s best movies that would come later on, Incendies remains a well-crafted, visceral drama and an intimate introduction for one of the industry’s brightest filmmakers to the big stage.


Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller, War

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Incendies (2010) Cast and Credits

incendies 2010 movie


Lubna Azabal as Nawal

Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin as Jeanne

Maxim Gaudette as Simon


Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writers: Denis VilleneuveValérie Beaugrand-Champagne

Cinematography: André Turpin

Editor: Monique Dartonne

Composer: Grégoire Hetzel

Reviews for Denis Villeneuve Movies