Sample Firm and Theatre Studies Paper on Incendies: A Scorched Identity of Canadian Cinema

Canadian cinema has been in a state of long-term adolescence compared to many
other national cinemas since the beginning of the industry, in a sense that it is lost in the
ability to establish its identity on a national cinematic scale. This continual struggle is
represented in Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies (2010) through religious comparisons, language
barriers, change in generations, and identification of the orphan. Incendies represent
Canadian cinema and its persistent struggle to create an established identity amidst being
hindered by self-destructing yet newly defining cultural, societal, and historical issues.
Canada’s film industry is depicted through four different parts that resemble Canada's
lack of established cinematic identity on a national scale. Firstly, the issue of religious
differences is present throughout the film. While much like Canadian cinema, Incendies is a
film that contains religious qualities but is not defined by them. To add to the matter, the film
also shows the language barrier, thus furthering the feeling of alienation. Furthermore, the
different perspectives on identity value are shown through the old versus the new generation,
represented by the twins and their mother. Finally, the depiction of the orphan in the film is
what identifies Canadian cinema through ironic means, thus creating an identity out of a lack
of identity. One way Canadians and many others explore the idea of finding an identity for
themselves is by identifying with a religion.
Many French Canadian films utilize the belief or disbelief of religion to create a tie
with a large number of Catholic populations in Quebec and their historical struggle with the
Anglo-centric Canadian government. From this, Incendies represent them through the war
between the Muslims and the Christians in the middle-East. Earlier in French-Canadian
cinema, the Quiet Revolution between the two religions inspired a generation of directors to
question their identity. Thus creating a "filmic revolution [that] mirrors a rise in self-
awareness and creative emancipation as it sets in motion a loop of identification whereby

people create images of who they are, which in turn informs later generations of where they
came from." This was Canadian cinema's early attempt to identify itself through the inspired
events of religion. But like Incendies, just because the films were inspired by religion, and
feature symbolic traits of religion, does not mean that the film is specifically about religion.
Incendies represent the two worlds of religion through the bridge that borders the North and
South of the country. While searching for her orphaned son, Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal)
crosses over from the quiet side to the war zone and escapes from being murdered because of
her cross necklace. The addition of religion is a more ironic comment about how it can do
more evil than good in the world. As Killeen states, “there’s nothing holy about a holy war in
which civilian buses are torched, babies are stolen from the arms of their mothers and the
difference between life and death is a cross necklace." The question of one's identity through
religion is a common feature in Canadian films and represents Canada's inability to define
itself, even through religious means. The film begs the same question through the
representation of language in differing cultures.
The language barriers in the film represent the different alienation cultures feel toward
each other. Despite having the same backgrounds, which references the way, the French and
English films are viewed as two separate entities in Canadian cinema, thus splitting apart
some of its progressing identity as a combined force. Incendies include many instances of
alienating their audience through other languages for the viewers to be included in the feeling
of desperation and isolation. At the beginning of the film, Jeanne Marwan (Mélissa
Désormeaux-Poulin) is introduced as an assistant to a professor of "pure mathematics." Math
can be a common language that can be the same no matter what official language one speaks.
Still, Jeanne's professor gives a detailed description of what "pure mathematics" is. And
suddenly, standard mathematics has evolved into an “overwhelming complexity of finding
new problems upon every answer you solve,” which is the way Jeanne and the audience feels

every time she encounters someone who cannot speak her language. These issues in the film
transition to the multicultural background of Canada’s culture and its cinema and states that
“language remains the main source of division between Canadians. Not just between English
and French but between ‘established Canadians’ and ‘new Canadians’”. These issues bring
light to the lack of community present in Canadian films and Canadian cinema as a whole.
This is especially prevalent in the division between English and French-speaking parts of
Canada, and it is important to note that "our two film traditions explore similar thematic
terrain – alienation, isolation, a sense of emptiness or being incomplete, there is little hope in
uniting the nation without embracing difference over sameness." Monk asserts an argument
that frequents the film and relates to the struggles of Canadian cinema. The relation between
the two is that language can be powerful and binding if utilized in a way that works as a team,
rather than recognizing language as a trait of negative differences in Canadian culture. This
calls attention to the fact that as a cinema, Canadians are weakened in identity when split into
two or more separate categories because of language, when in an ideal sense, Canada could
assert its identity through the combination of language and the cultural influences it is
enriched with. This relates to the cultural influences that are shown in the film throughout
generations of one family.
The depiction of the old and new generations in Incendies is representative of the
search and eventually the acceptance of one’s identity in regards to Canadian cinema. Before
Nawal Marwan's death, the audience is exposed to her journey to find her son. After her
death, the search is continued to her other children to find her son, Nihad (Abdelghafour
Elaaziz), and their father, Abou Tarek (Abdelghafour Elaaziz). Near the end of the film, the
audience is told that the twins' brother is also their father out of rape. This makes Nihad/Abou
a multitude of identities that interlink the family. In relation to Canadian cinema, it is
apparent that "discourses of national identity have traditionally been focused on the tension

between an English-Canadian identity crisis and a more secure uncertainty about who 'we
are. While the situation is more complicated than it is often made to seem, it now involves a
growing awareness of the nation's ethnic diversity and from the associated idea of Canada as
a multicultural state". This is more like the complicated relationship between Nihad, Nawal,
and the twins because the chaotic description that depicts a lacking identity is, in fact, the
identity of the family in the end. This comments on Canadian cinema's uncertain and
frequently questioned identity and how the different generations represent those and are tied
together symbolically by Nihad.
Nihad, the orphan, represents Canada’s lack of identity and place in the world of
cinema, and ultimately, the newborn identity is made out of a lack of identity. Throughout the
film, Nihad is known as an orphan, which symbolically asserts him not knowing his place in
the world. Monk states, “in the context of nationalism, the orphan is a potent image of
dislocation and outsiderism, as it suggests the lack of a family structure and a larger identity.
The orphan does not belong to a specific group or clan, which mirrors the core of the
Canadian identity as a culture steeped in ambiguity and otherness”. Monk’s analysis of
Canada as the orphan is shown in Incendies in the beginning scene when Nihad gets his head
shaved by his capturers. Before then, Nihad lacked identity and purpose, but having his head
shaved in a new family represents his newfound identity asserted from a lack of identity in
the first place. When he decidedly becomes Abou Tarek, even though he committed
something monstrous to his mother, his mother expresses in both letters to both his identities
her acceptance of him as her son and her children’s father. In this modern depiction of
Oedipus, Nihad’s role of the orphan creates an identifying factor toward Canadian cinema's
struggle to identify itself, thus creating an identity out of uncertainty.
Incendies depicts the Canadian struggle cinema has experienced with possessing an
identifier from a national standpoint. It calls upon aspects of religion, language, orphans, and

generational changes to express the conflict of Canadian films. Although Canada has had its
setbacks compared to other national cinemas, it can still hold a certain charm and ambiance
that comes with the lack of identity around it. Canada's bi-lingual, cultural, and historical
influences are things that add strength to the cinematic experience of its films. They should
be embraced by all aspects of Canadian filmmakers and critics to assert their identity.
Incendies, although a disturbing movie, argues an optimistic standpoint for the future of
Canada and its value in terms of national cinema and identity.



Incendies. Dir. Villeneuve, Denis. Perf. Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, and Maxim
Gaudette. E1 Films Canada, 2010. Film.
Killeen, Graham. “’Incendies’ crackles with intensity of Mideast strife.” Journal Sentinal.
Journal Sentinal, 2015. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.