Quebec Studies

Denis Villeneuve's Incendies: From Word to Image

Quebec Studies (2012), 54, (1), 103–110.

Abstract

103 Denis Villeneuve's Incendies: From Word to Image Mary Jean Green Dartmouth College Already hailed at Cannes, Denis Villeneuve's film adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad's Incendies powerfully affected me and the other members of the audience during its North American premiere in September 2010 at the Telluride Film Festival. Villeneuve himself was in attendance and was pleased at this response, which was soon shared by audiences at the Toronto Film Festival and throughout Canada. As we remember, the film became Canada's choice for the Academy Awards for the year 2010, when it was among the five nominees in the category of Foreign Film. Although Incendies ultimately did not win, many critics considered it to be the best film in the running. More recently, in The New York Times of December 14, 2011, Incendies was mentioned again by film critic A.O. Scott in a list of the best films of 2011, the year of the film's commercial distribution in the United States. Not long after seeing Villeneuve's film, I had a conversation with a young Lebanese woman, now living in the United States. When I told her I was writing on the film adaptation of Mouawad's play, she expressed admiration for the dramatic text but confessed she felt unable to see the film, overwhelmed by the prospect of seeing the violent events described in Mouawad's dramatic dialogue transformed into cinematic reality before her eyes. As she admitted, she herself had few memories of the war in Lebanon, because her parents were reluctant to talk about it. A young memory-deprived immigrant like Mouawad himself, she understood the emotions that had motivated him to speak of events that took place during his childhood, telling a story in large part based on lived reality, his own and that of people he had met.1 These comments by a young Lebanese woman gave me new insight into the difficulty of Villeneuve's project of transforming the more dis­ tanced poetic dialogue of Mouawad's play into cinematic images that, of necessity, bring the audience into direct visual contact with the brutal real­ ities of the Lebanese civil war. Villeneuve's ability to transform episodes of great brutality into profoundly moving images, often without the use of dialogue, enables him to further underline some of Mouawad's central con­ cerns, particularly his condemnation of violence against innocent women and children. Like Mouawad, Villeneuve also pays tribute to those who work to guard and preserve memory, both personal and cultural, in the midst of cultural conflict. In the process, Villeneuve significantly adapts the role of Mouawad's character, the Québécois Maître Lebel, and creates in his film a Lebanese counterpart, Maître Maddad, thereby establishing par­ allels between the role of law in Lebanon and Québec. As Villeneuve has explained in an interview with Edward Douglas, he approached the task of writing his film scenario by removing much of Québec Studies, Volume 54, Fall 2012/Winter 2013

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Green, Mary