Reprinted from April 8 coverage of Philadelphia CineFest.
A brother and sister, twins in Montreal, are reading their mother's last will and testament. The news is jolting: Simon (Maxim Gaudette) and Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) have a sibling in their mother's Middle East homeland they did not know existed. And their father, whom the pair believed long dead, is apparently alive.
So begins the epic journey that is Incendies, Denis Villeneuve's extraordinary exploration of the juncture where family history, religious identity, and roiling politics collide.
Incendies, a 2011 foreign-language Oscar nominee, is a deftly constructed and beautifully realized adaptation of Scorched, a play by Wajdi Mouawad (staged at the Wilma Theater in 2009). Villeneuve toggles back and forth between the present, when Jeanne embarks on a trip to find her unknown brother and father, and a time 30-odd years earlier. This is the story of her mother, Nawal (an amazing Lubna Azabal, from Paradise Now), a beautiful woman whose life was torn apart when she became pregnant out of wedlock and witnessed the killing of her lover, barely escaping death herself.