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Incendies

Year: 2010
Production Co: micro_scope
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Denis Villeneuve/Wajdi Mouawad
Cast: Hussein Sami, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette

I watched Sarah's Key only a few weeks ago, and Incendies is cut from very much the same cloth, with the elements that straight away make one think of a hit novel (a play, in this case).

Book publishers nowadays love parallel stories of women on voyages of discovery - as do readers, judging by how many there are. Throw in religious persecution, rape and long-kept family secrets, and it almost writes the back cover blurb by itself.

That description makes it sound like I thought Incendies was a terrible film. Far from it – it was as harrowing as it was occasionally moving.

Palestinian-Canadian twins Jeanne (Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Gaudette) attend the reading of their mother's will in Toronto, and the lawyer who employed her for years gives them each an envelope, sending them in search of the father they never knew and the brother they didn't know they had.

Jeanne does most of the work, Simon throwing his hands up in disgust at what he sees as the last gasp of their mother's delusional mind. She travels to the Middle East and begins on the trail that goes from her mother's village all the way to an audience with a former warlord.

At the same time, we're introduced to young Nihad (Sami), who's committed the crime of falling in love. After her brothers shoot her lover dead and want to kill her too, their mother sends her and the baby away separately in the middle of the night for their safety where she starts to live in peace in a university town.

But as she readies to leave to track her son down, a violent revolution comes that sees her half-walking across the country, staying out of the way of fearsome rebels with barely her life, eventually becoming the assassin who guns down their leader and spending years in prison as a result.

There's a strong narrative motif (the baby's tattooed heel) that gives the story it's plot hook years later and delivers the suckerpunch twist. It makes the film something of a potboiler, but the story zips along and the realism you imagine you can see in the struggles and violence of a country falling apart give it an urgency and sense of real horror.

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