Potent tale of family secrets

Lubna Azabal plays the mother, whose dramatic story of sacrifice is interspersed with that of two surviving children and their discovery of her secrets after her death.
Lubna Azabal plays the mother, whose dramatic story of sacrifice is interspersed with that of two surviving children and their discovery of her secrets after her death.
Posted: April 08, 2011

A brother and sister, twins in Montreal, are being read 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 to be 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. The 2011 foreign-language Oscar nominee plays tonight at CineFest and begins its theatrical run in May.

Incendies, a deftly constructed and beautifully realized adaptation of a play by Wajdi Mouawad (Scorched, staged at the Wilma Theater in 2009), toggles back and forth between the present day, 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 (Lubna Azabal), 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.

Forced to give up the child and flee, Nawal becomes caught in the bloody conflict between Christian militants and Muslims. (Although it is set in a fictitious country, Villeneuve's story clearly transpires during the Lebanese civil war of the 1970s.) Simon, raging and reluctant to honor his deceased mother's extraordinary wishes - she has left sealed envelopes for the twins to deliver to their father and brother - eventually joins Jeanne. Their discoveries are hard won, but revelatory.

Incendies - which is about the secrets we inherit, and how the past shapes our lives and our future - reverberates with the power and passion of Greek tragedy.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/

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