“The mathematics you’ve studied until now have sought to provide clear and definitive answers to clear and definitive problems. Now you are embarking on a new adventure. You will face insoluble problems that will lead to other, equally insoluble problems.”Mathematics Professor
Before his rise to fame in the decade that followed, Denis Villeneuve directed Incendies (“fires”), a fittingly incendiary mystery as Canadian twins search for their estranged father and brother to fulfill their mother’s last wish. Parallel stories intersperse their search with flashbacks to their mother’s eventful life. Although the country is unspecified, the events are drawn largely from the Lebanese Civil War, and the film is unflinching in tackling bleak subject matter that covers religious and sectarian violence, political imprisonment and torture. Villeneuve is sparing with what is shown on-screen, often content to show the aftermath instead. Incendies does not take sides, with Narwan’s experiences including Islamic honour killing and Christian terrorists shooting a bus filled with civilians (a striking image that serves to highlight Hollywood’s skewed portrayal of terrorism). The precise, cryptically constructed narrative ensures that attentive viewers are a step ahead of the characters, whilst still delivering a shattering conclusion. With the film shot on location in Montreal and Jordan, there is less of the strict visual control that emerged in Villeneuve’s later films, but we already see some familiar stylistic choices, such as lingering close-ups capturing actors’ reactions to extended dialogue spoken off-screen. Meanwhile, the use of multiple Radiohead songs is incongruously jarring, yet grounds the film’s unquestionably Western perspective on Middle Eastern local conflict.