Based on the play Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad, Incendies introduces various characters that are destined to collide in a way that would befit a Greek tragedy. In the present day, college-age twins Jeanne and Simon are presented with the mysterious contents of their mother Nawal’s will. Their mother escaped a war-torn Middle-Eastern country, and told them very little about her past. They are presented with sealed envelopes to give to their long-lost elder brother (who they did not know existed) and their father (who they always thought was dead). Their modern tale is a journey of mystery, as Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin), later joined by Simon (Maxim Gaudette), heads to the homeland to research the dark secrets of their dead mother, with shocking revelations.
The modern scenes are interspersed with flashbacks to young Nawal (Lubna Azabal), who has an illegitimate child that she is forced to relinquish upon birth. The child is born of shame, of another religion, and the scandal tears apart her family, marking shame upon her village who shuns her. In Nawal’s best interest, her mother sends the infant (with a mark tattooed on his heel) to an orphanage, and sends Nawal to the city to attend university, so she will hopefully not have to return to the village where she has no future.
The country is torn apart by religious violence, and according to the extras on the Blu-Ray, it is modeled after the civil war in Lebanon in the 1970s. It is Christian against Muslim, and the way a woman wears a scarf is as likely to get her killed as spared. One of the more shocking and memorable scenes involves Nawal trying to find the orphanage where her son was left. As she walks down a desert road, she (a Christian) quickly rearranges her scarf to cover her hair so that she can be picked up by a passing bus. However, when the bus is stopped by militia who intended to slaughter the innocent passengers, she saves herself by shouting out, “I am Christian! I am Christian!” and holding up her crucifix necklace as the rest of the passengers cower, awaiting their fate.
As the two stories come closer together, you know it won’t end well. The only way Nawal says she can rest in peace is for her tragic story to get closure. As painful as the closure is, it does seem necessary when all is revealed. There are no happy endings in Incendies, which serves as a sad metaphor for the ugly reality that we can see in the news on any given day.