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Unearthing a Secret Carried to the Grave

MOVIE REVIEW
Incendies (2010)

Incendies-lubna-azabal
EOne Films

Nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category, Denis Villeneuve’s “Incendies” uses Middle East unrest as a framework for classic Greek tragedy. What transpires is a brutal and compelling meditation on war, survival and reconciliation, even when its core Sophoclean aspect starts reaching really far into daytime soap territory.

Based on Wajdi Mouawad’s play, the story revolves around the death and the mysterious life of Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal), a refugee who fled an unidentified Middle East country and emigrated to Québec. In her last will and testament, she instructs her adult children to deliver two sealed envelopes respectively to a father and a brother they know nothing about. The film then juxtaposes flashbacks to Nawal’s harrowing Mideast civil war ordeal with daughter Jeanne’s (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) parallel journey to trace her roots.

The film’s power is undeniable. Through the children’s Westernized perspectives, moviegoers view Middle Eastern atrocities as traumatic personal revelations instead of a remote way of life in a strange land. (The same can’t be said about its ultimately victorious fellow Oscar nominee, “In a Better World.”) Although “Incendies” shows very little violence, the burden of knowing what’s taking place off-screen is just as difficult for the audience to stomach.

It’s at times not easy to look past some of the film’s shortcomings. One can’t help but think of ways that Atom Egoyan, for instance, might have improved it given his knack for juggling multiple timelines and storylines. Mr. Villeneuve here often sticks with one narrative for far too long at the expense of another. And again, the increasingly implausible developments and the way everything is tied up neatly in the end somewhat trivializes an otherwise intense experience. Still, “Incendies” should have won that Oscar.

INCENDIES

Opens on April 22 in New York and Los Angeles and on June 24 in Britain.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve; written by Mr. Villeneuve, based on the stage play by Wajdi Mouawad; director of photography, André Turpin; edited by Monique Dartonne; music by Grégoire Hetzel; production design by André-Line Beauparlant; costumes by Sophie Lefebvre; produced by Luc Déry and Kim McCraw; released by Sony Pictures Classics (United States) and Trinity Filmed Entertainment (Britain). In French and Arabic, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Lubna Azabal (Nawal Marwan), Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin (Jeanne Marwan), Maxim Gaudette (Simon Marwan), Rémy Girard (Notary Jean Lebel), Abdelghafour Elaaziz (Abou Tarek), Allen Altman (Notary Maddad), Mohamed Majd (Chamseddine), Nabil Sawalha (Fahim) and Baya Belal (Maïka).

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