“Jeanne, this envelope is for your father. Find him, and give it to him. Simon, this envelope is for your brother. Find him, and give him the envelope. When the envelopes have been delivered, the Notary will give the two of you a letter. The silence will be broken, a promise kept!”
My modus operandi, whenever a foreign language film is involved, is to call it by its English name. Hence, Incendies will be referred to as Fires. I’ve not seen this done anywhere else. The film is routinely called Incendies. On first blush, the title is mysterious. But the title, like everything else in this, my favorite foreign language film ever, is perfect! Amazingly, this 83rd Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film Nominee did not receive the Oscar on February 27, 2011. It lost to a fine motion picture, In a Better World, but this is as blatant a mistake, if not as memorable, as when How Green Was My Valley won Best Picture at the 14th Oscars over an instantly legendary Citizen Kane. In fact, none of the protagonists in this amazing film have ever won an Academy Award.
Since Fires is a foreign language film, it was nominated for no other Oscars. It certainly should have been one of the 10 Best Picture Nominees and possibly taken the Oscar. I love The King’s Speech, but it didn’t get my vote in our annual Oscars Party Ballot Pool – I voted for True Grit. I always end up near the dregs of the voting, opting to use my ballot to document my selections and lose the $1, rather than whore out and prognosticate what the Academy will do. Remember: It’s that same exact group of people who thought In a Better World was a better foreign language film than Fires. And the same association said, “Citizen Kane. Bah!!! Not nearly as Green as My Valley.”. In a better world, Fires wins the 83rd Best Foreign Language Film Oscar; and gets a Nomination and heavy consideration for Best Picture, perhaps even breaking a barrier ala The Artist, winning the coup de grâce. And certainly supplants the overrated The Social Network – almost as overrated as the sappy, web support system for mediocrity & the bourgeoisie on which the film is based – for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.
The film’s premise is well laid out in the opening sequence. Adult twins, a brother & sister, Jeanne & Simon Marwan, are in the office of Canadian Notary, Jean Lebel. It’s immediately obvious that notaries have expanded responsibilities in Canada by comparison to the USA. He is the executor of the will of their recently deceased mother, Nawal, who is originally from Lebanon and a former employee of Lebel’s. He hands the twins two envelopes, one to each, to be delivered to their father & brother respectively. The request is met with incredible surprise & curiosity by the brilliant and stoic Jeanne, a mathematician. They’d always thought their father was dead for many, many years. Simon’s reaction is one of bitter disdain. He wants no part of any of this. He thinks his mother was crazy before she passed, and he is irate – especially when he hears that he is to find and deliver the envelope to a brother they never knew existed! He finds it altogether too painful to deal with – his Mom seemingly lost her mind one day while relaxing with Jeanne at a public pool, then died relatively soon thereafter. Simon’s response to all of this is anger!
The film is a mystery, a treasure hunt, a tragedy, a love story, a tale of corruption & abuse & war: A masterpiece! Its themes are numerous. Mainly, the unconditional love of a mother. Perhaps no film so disturbingly demonstrates that love as Fires. The recurring theme of hatred & prejudice permeates the motion picture. Respect for elders & varying cultures; the search for knowledge & the reward of its gain; sibling love; abuse of power; the hell brought on by war. And, oh yes, FIRES! The destructive, annihilating, consuming force: Man’s greatest discovery and worst nightmare.
The plot is relatively complicated. Not on an Inception scale, but you must pay attention, but don’t worry: You’ll be compelled to. If you have yet to see this fantastic, 4-star drama, rent it! I couldn’t locate it quickly on Netflix, though I expect it’s available there. I recently watched it again, for the third time, on Blockbuster by Mail. My first two viewings were on the big screen. If you see Fires playing at a second run theater or a library, do not pass up that inexpensive opportunity. Then you can rent In a Better World, and re-watch The King’s Speech and The Social Network so you can decide for yourself whether it deserved the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and at least two additional Nominations.