MONTREAL — It might be a bit of an understatement to say Wajdi Mouawad is pretty happy about the way Quebec director Denis Villeneuve adapted his play Incendies into an Oscar-nominated film.
“I’m as delighted for Denis as I would be for a twin brother,” says Mouawad.
“I’m deeply touched by the brilliantly elegant way that, in the midst of the frenzy, he consistently references the theatrical roots of the film and I thank him for that.”
Incendies, the emotionally searing story of twins exploring their mother’s past in the dark heart of the Middle East, is in contention for best foreign-language film at the Oscars, which will be announced Sunday at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles.
It’s up against some stiff competition, including the highly touted Biutiful from Mexico, but Mouawad is effusive in his praise of Villeneuve’s effort.
“The film Incendies that Denis has made from the play Incendies is the work of an outstanding artist,” the ever-busy Mouawad said in a statement provided to The Canadian Press in advance of the Oscars.
“In that context, it cannot be considered an adaptation of the play: to define it that way would be to diminish it and that would be unfair,” said Mouawad, who is the artistic director of French theatre at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
“The film Incendies is a complete work in its own right: it owes nothing to anyone and it rests entirely on Denis’ talent as a filmmaker. It all belongs to him. It all comes down to him. And that is tremendous.”
Mouawad, who was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2009 for his internationally acclaimed work as a writer, director and actor, was born in Lebanon in 1968. His family fled the civil war there and went to France and shortly after came to Canada.
He began his prolific career after graduating from the National Theatre School in 1991.
Incendies was first performed in France in March 2003, making its Canadian debut in May of that year in Montreal at the Festival de theatre des ameriques. That was followed by performances at the National Arts Centre in October.
The play Incendies is part of a series which began with Littoral (Tideline), and was followed by Incendies and Forets.
Littoral and Incendies won Governor General’s Literary Awards, in 2000 and 2003 respectively.
Incendies has been translated into several languages including Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese and Romanian, and continues to be staged in Canada and around the world.
Annie Gibson, the publisher of Toronto-based Playwrights Canada Press, says there is also a huge demand for the play from Canadian readers.
“With the attention it’s been receiving lately, we ran out of copies,” said Gibson, whose firm publishes the English translation of the play, Scorched. More copies are now being printed and will be available in a couple of weeks.
Gibson said the work was first published in 2005 after it had toured Canada for the first time. The play has also been produced internationally.
“It’s still one of the best plays people say they’ve ever seen,” she said. “It was so good.”
She said a revised edition was printed in 2010 and the run of 1,000 copies was gone within a year, which she said is exceptional for a play.
“We don’t have that kind of success with any of our books and especially not translations so it’s a testament to the quality of the play. It really is a phenomenal piece of work.”
Gibson said the filmmakers also “did a fantastic job” with the adaptation.
“I’m really hoping it wins that Oscar,” she said with a laugh. “It’s killing me that I don’t have copies right now.”