Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, 2010)

What's it about? After their mother Nawal (Lubna Azabal) dies, twins Simon (Maxim Gaudette) and Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) are shocked when her will instructs them to travel to her homeland in the Middle East to track down their father, who they believed to be dead, and their brother, who they did not even know existed. In doing so, they gradually uncover the grim details of their mother's extraordinary life.

Is it any good? Very good. A powerful story which works as a tense mystery-thriller, assuredly flicking between past and present as it reveals its secrets. The tension in Nawal's timeline is generated by the dangers she finds herself in as civil war breaks out in the country, and this provides some of the most affecting moments in the film. Whilst in the modern-day timeline, the tension comes from anticipating how the twins will react to key discoveries about their mother's life, some of which we, the viewers, already know. It is a little unfortunate that the plot hinges on a couple of contrivances and one massive coincidence, which stretch credibility somewhat. Nonetheless, the strong acting and restrained treatment of the more horrific aspects of the tale keep it on track and the result is a fine film about the tragic, far-reaching effects of war and violence upon individuals and families. Check it out.

I don't trust you. What do others think? Nominated in Best Foreign Film category at the 2011 Oscars and well received by critics and audiences alike. The band Radiohead were also impressed enough by a rough cut to allow Villeneuve to use their melancholic song 'You and Whose Army' in the haunting opening scenes. I know. Radiohead melancholic! Who have thought it?

Anything else I should know? It's based on the acclaimed play Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad, whose family fled Lebanon after the civil war broke out in 1975. He discusses how that influenced the writing of the play here. However, the film never specifies which Middle Eastern country the action is taking place in, as director Villeneuve wanted the themes of the film to be apolitical and apply beyond the borders of one country (the striking desolate scenery in the film was photogrpahed mostly in Jordan). He discusses some of the challenges of adapting such a dialogue-heavy political play here.

What does the Fonz think? Scorchio!

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