Incendies (2010) (R)

"Incendies" feels like many things—a quest, a discovery, a history lesson—but the most overriding thing it feels like is a love letter to maternity and family.
When their mother dies, her twin children have to fulfill her last wishes so that she can be buried without shame. In her will, which her boss has notarized, their mother wished to be buried upside down, facing the earth, naked, with no headstone. Once her wishes are completed, she will allow a headstone with her name to be placed on her grave to be seen in the sunlight.
But what are her wishes?
For her daughter, a sealed letter is to be given to the father, who has supposedly died many years ago in the Middle East. For her son, a sealed letter is to be given to an unknown brother, which comes as a rude awakening.
Simon (Maxim Gaudette) is horrified at these wishes. Not only did his mother keep this brother from he and his sister, she wishes them to track him down and give him a letter. No, it's too much for him, he tries many times to storm out of the office before the will has finished being read.
The sister's task seems much more feasible, since they both know that they had to have had a father. She decides that she will honor her mother's wishes and travels out to the Middle East, where her mother was from, to trace her steps. All she has as far as clues are concerned is a picture of her mother standing in front of prison in "The South" of the unnamed Middle Eastern country she travels to. All of the movie is fictitious, though it is so cleverly handled that it fells like it could be a true story. People seem to think that the country involved is based on Lebanon, but whether or not that's the case isn't important.
The setting that their mother, Nawal (Lubna Azabal) grows up in is a setting of religious persecution. The Muslims want to kill the Christians and vice versa. There are revolutions and turmoil and sometimes Nawal will participate in these revolutions. 
As her daughter, Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) travels from Canada to this country, we go back in time to see the actions of her mother. As her mother grows up, her daughter is discovering who this woman really was.
We see all the different colors to the mom—she is brave, fearless, misguided, and resilient. Her story may not be pleasant for some viewers; but as compared to other movies that try to base their stories in the Middle East, "Incendies" is tame compared to most.
The film never shakes its finger and condemns actions, probably because the screenplay is so personal. Though the film got nominated for Foreign Film at the Oscars, the screenplay was looked over...which I think is a travesty. 
As Jeanne travels through the dusty land, quieted by years of silence, we see Nawal traveling through the same paths as war is tearing the country apart.
Even the way the film is shot feels intimate, the camera gets up close and personal to a lot of the actors, who don't seem to notice. It makes you forget that you're watching a movie, and that's a rare achievement.
A masterpiece in terms of characters alone, "Incendies" does have an unsettling ending, but one that works incredibly well. The film transcends its story and becomes about forgiveness rather than revenge and love rather than violence.
"Incendies" is a rare roller coaster of a movie, a ride that is completely worth taking.
Lubna Azabal is stunning here as Nawal, the mother, the lover, and the rebel. She has to be some many different things from one scene to the next that any lesser actress would have been swallowed by the role, but not Azabal.
This is the movie that put Denis Villeneuve into stardom and after last year's "Prisoners", he has stayed there remarkably well.
For a movie that's actions are entirely cold and unsentimental, "Incendies" is an emotional force to be reckoned with. It establishes its characters better than any film I've seen in a while.
I can't seem to find any faults with it.
Poignant, touching, and almost perfect. "Incendies" is irresistible.

Score: ★★★★ 

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