melissa desormeaux-poulin

The serious side of Incendies star Melissa Désormeaux-Poulin

Any Québec teen can tell you who Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin is. She starred in the very successful À vos marques… Party! franchise, about a high school swim team. She also starred in Dédé à travers les brumes, a bio-pic about the too-short life of singer Dédé Fortin from the band Les Colocs. But none of her teen fans would have predicted her next move.

This month, Désormeaux-Poulin plays the lead in Incendies, a devastating movie that takes place in two time periods - now, and during the Lebanese civil war of the 1970s. Helmed by Genie-winning director Denis Villeneuve (Polytechnique), this one is definitely for grown-ups. 

“It used to be the teenagers who brought their parents to see my films. This time it’s clearly the other way around,” says the 29-year-old actor, before quickly adding, “It’s certainly not a movie for young teens. It’s a powerful but hard-to-watch modern Greek tragedy.”

Filled with rape, genocide and the far-reaching affects of terrorism, Incendies is based on the play Scorched by Lebanese-Canadian writer Wajdi Mouawad. It tells the story of two Canadian twins, Jeanne (Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette), who, after their mother’s death, return to her birthplace in Lebanon to discover the truth about their war-torn origins.

And, believe it or not, when Villeneuve first approached Désormeaux-Poulin for the project, he wanted to make this a silent film. “The play was very wordy,” she says. “It was full of beautiful poetic monologues. Denis wanted to use poetic visuals instead.” The final film does have dialogue, but much less than the play. “This was perfect for me. In real life, I’m someone who loves to listen. I’d rather listen than talk,” says Désormeaux-Poulin. “All the silence in the movie felt so right.”

Incendies has already opened in Quebec and travelled the world’s major festivals, winning awards. “Sadly, because of my shooting schedule I was only able to attend the world premiere at the Venice Film Festival,” says the actor.

But there’s a chance she’ll make one more trip on behalf of the film - to L.A. for the Oscars. Incendies has been chosen as Canada’s entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category; nominations will be announced January 25th. (Note: Incendies was nominated for an Oscar. Get Villeneuve's reaction here)

“If the movie gets selected as one of the five finalists, attending the Oscars would be the culmination of all of our work, the ultimate dream for our team,” she says.

-Mathieu Chantelois

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