Tuesday, July 31, 2012


If I wanted a deeply moving story, I’d choose a foreign language film. Somehow, the English language has severe constraints to translate human emotions, and that which is obscure, elusive and intangible  into words.

The lady at the video shop was raving about this French movie that ‘you must watch... but not suitable for children.’ 

Is there nudity?’ I asked slightly amused as it’s not uncommon in the French DVDs we borrow from Alliance Francaise since the girls were young.

No, but it’s not suitable for children,’ she warned kindly.

By now, I’m sure my girls must watch this because people usually want to protect ‘children’ from ‘adult themes’ such as rape, racial violence and other atrocious realities of the human race.  Right timing: we were just looking for something deep and provocative. 

The best time to watch a movie with an emotionally charged theme is when you are going through profound emotions yourself and find in the movie, the freedom to connect with other human beings at deeper levels than is possible or polite with real people.

INCENDIES  is a French word for fire. Though other reviews describe it as a place where fire has taken place or scorched, I prefer the proverbial fire in one’s belly to describe a gripping story of Nawal – a Middle-eastern Christian with an indomitable will to live. The unfolding of her life began posthumously as her twins, Jeanne and Simon went in search of a father and brother they never knew still existed to deliver her letters, handed to them by a notary.  It was one thing to grow up with a detached, impassive mother; quite another to deal with her outrageous request to be buried face down, in the buff and not until they delivered the letters, could a headstone be placed. 

The intriguing account of Nawal’s life unfolded in piecemeal progression of scenes alternating between the mother in the past and the daughter in the present - often hard to tell apart - and between dialogues in French and Arabic.   

The twins found the existence of a half elder brother, Nihad, who was conceived outside wedlock and given up for adoption at birth with only markings on his heel for identification later.  All this life, Nihad was as driven to find his mother as she was to locate him.  Through a convoluted course of the human desperation, derangement and tragedy, the son would become an infamous sniper and later, a torturer named Abou Tareq sent to break the spirit of prisoner no. 72 known as the woman who sings.  Nawal was raped repeatedly and eventually, had twins in prison.

One plus one makes two,’ Simon told his sister over the phone after discovering the revolting truth. The brother and father were both one.

But the man they would deliver the letters to was now a humble bus cleaner in Canada where they all lived. Looking at his milder persona now reminds one that desperation has the power to change a person’s character.  Nihad’s life-long search for his mother turned him into another person.  And for the mother, the fire in her belly to connect with her lost son compelled her to hand down the imperative for her twins to discover their bizarre parentage. They were normal human desires tragically fulfilled.

These were the letters* -  the first letter was addressed to the father.

“I’m shaking as I write.  I recognized you.  You didn’t recognize me.  It’s magnificent, a miracle.  I am your number 72.  Our children will deliver this.  You won’t recognize them for they are beautiful, but they know who you are.  Through them, I want to tell you that you are still alive.  Soon you’ll turn silent.  I know.  For all are silent before the truth.  Signed, Whore 72.”

The second letter was addressed to the son.

“I speak to the son, not to the torturer.  Whatever happens, I’ll always love you.  I promised you that when you were born, my son.  Whatever happens, I’ll always love you.  I looked for you all my life.  I found you.  You couldn’t recognize me.  You’ve a tattoo on your right heel.  I saw it.  I recognized you.  You are beautiful.  I wrap you in tenderness, my love.  Take solace, for nothing means more than being together.  You were born of love.  So your brother and sister were born of love, too.  Nothing means more than being together.  Your mother, Nawal Marwan. Prisoner Number 72.”

This story does not attempt to hide the deficiencies of a mother’s love, but defends it with the truth that brings together the human, the woman, and the circumstances that forms her motherhood. What mothers are is a combination of their past, their present and their dreams.  Sometimes, it’s beautiful.  Sometimes, it’s bizarre.  But always, it’s the best they could offer. 

* Source http://internationalpsychoanalysis.net/2012/05/15/oedipus-in-lebanon-incendies/