Movie review: 'Incendies,' 3.5 stars
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring Lubna Azabal, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette
The ending of “Incendies” is a disquieting surprise — and a bold one at that. When a movie’s big reveal hinges on a pair of coincidences as unlikely as these, it risks being too far-fetched. Yet, in its brazen way, the finale is perfect. Any less bold and it would not have delivered the one-two punch that sets this movie apart from other Middle East sagas.
“Incendies” begins in a notary’s office, where twins Jeanne and Simon Narwan (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette) receive a pair of letters from their recently deceased mother, Nawal Narwan (Lubna Azabal). The letters ask them to find their father and their brother — baffling requests since they believed their father to be dead and never even knew of a brother.
Jeanne travels to her mother’s native (fictional) country in the Middle East and, playing genealogy detective, discovers a side of her mother she never new existed. As the film flashes back to Nawal’s younger days as a religious dissident and eventually a tortured prisoner, Jeanne learns that her mother was witness to — and sometimes a player in — death, suffering and personal woes worthy of a horrific soap opera. Mother and daughter’s concurrent journeys eventually converge on a bombshell ending, which may have felt gratuitous had not every preceding scene been so tenderly acted and thoughtfully directed.
“Incendies” unfolds as a riveting mystery story, but more distinct is its profound observations on violence: For every violent act, the film implies, there is a history that leads to it and consequences that stem from it — and along this timeline are, perversely, moments of tenderness and love.
Playing at Lincoln Plaza and Sunshine Cinemas