a note on incendies, québécois cinema and its race politics

posted by jroselkim

If you haven’t marked Denis Villeneuve’s new film Incendies as one of the films to check out this year, you should. It’s a beautiful and compelling story of two Montreal siblings on a journey of self-discovery to their homeland Lebanon (which they left as infants with their mother). The film screened at TIFF to a very positive and receptive crowd and opened in Montreal on September 17 – I believe (I hope?) there will be a Canada-wide screening soon. The non-linear storytelling is both intricate and startling, leading to a very shocking twist at the end – which, I must say, does not really make sense chronologically. I can’t say much else about it, because I would have to spoil the ending for you.

However, the movie still displays some problems when it comes to its casting. Both of the main actors, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette, are of Québécois decent and not Lebanese. This leaves Lubna Azabal, who plays the mother Nawal, as the only actress of colour in a film that centres around a Lebanese-Canadian family (Azabal is a Belgian-Moroccan actress).

This is not to say that white people can’t “act” in other ethnic parts. But when opportunities for actors of colour are already so limited as they are at the moment, why is it that studios would give opportunities to other white actors where an actor/actress of colour would be perfect for the part?

I am reminded of Jacob Tierney (director of The Trotsky, yet another excellent Québécois fare, anglo-style)’s recent interview with La Presse, where he bluntly stated: “Quebec society is extremely turned in on itself. Our art and our culture shows only white francophones. Anglophones and immigrants are ignored. They have no place in the québécois dream. It’s shameful.”

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “a note on incendies, québécois cinema and its race politics

  1. bsa

    ooooh i’m gonna need subtitles

  2. James Greene

    “I can’t say much else about it, because I would have to spoil the ending for you.”

    You may not think you’ve spoiled the ending already, but by telling viewers there’s a shock twist coming, you have.

    • Hi James,

      I have to respectfully disagree – many of the reviews I read of the film also mention that there is a twist at the end of the film. Perhaps I revealed more than I should have by qualifying that, but to say that there is a twist doesn’t constitute an actual spoiler. I don’t think telling someone there is a twist is “spoiling” the ending for them, unless I specify the content of that spoiler. This review, for instance, also refers to the twist that happens at the end as well.

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