In the highly-acclaimed suspense thriller Incendies
, a mother's dying wish creates a painful puzzle her children are forced to solve. At the reading of their mother's will, twins Jeanne and Simon are given instructions to locate the father they believed was dead and the brother neither knew existed. They travel to the Middle East, to piece together the story of the woman who brought them into the world only to make a shocking discovery.
This hauntingly enigmatic Canadian film and 2010 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee unfolds backward and forward in time as a riveting, intricate mystery story. Clues are doled out gradually and often without the benefit of reason until shocking answers are unearthed in the final minutes. Set primarily in an unnamed Middle East country that is probably Lebanon, events are told in flashbacks and present-day scenes that run together without comment or overt transitions, employing a formal structure that requires us to pay constant attention to the shifts in perspective. It's a challenging task, but one that becomes enormously engrossing as the narrative weaves around itself against the backdrop of a bloody civil war and the equally damaging emotional battle of a family that is bound to a past ruled by equal parts devotion and horror. The primary characters are Nawal Marwan and her twin children Jeanne and Simon. A framing device set in Montreal where the grown twins hear a reading of their recently deceased mother's will sets up a quest that must be resolved before her body can be put to rest. They are each given sealed letters by the avuncular notary who was both their mother's employer and family friend (he also becomes pretty important to the extended plot, as do a number of other seemingly minor characters). As her last request, the mother has instructed Jeanne to deliver one letter to their father and Simon to deliver the other to their brother. Even though the twins believed their unknown father to be long dead and were unaware of the existence of a brother, Nawal's will assures them that both men are very much alive. With nothing more than the family name and a vague history of Nawal's early life in the strife-torn country where fighting between Christians and Muslims wrought a years-long bloodbath, both children get a crack at solving the mystery. The trails they follow each in their own turn are intercut with episodes from the young Nawal's journey of heartbreak, tension, and terror decades earlier. The children uncover incremental details in the same resolutely objective fashion that director Denis Villeneuve reels out others through the experiences of Nawal as she lived through her own ordeal. The script by Villeneuve was based on a play by Wajdi Mouawad, and there is a deeply resonant literary quality to the narrative that gives what might have otherwise seemed like an unlikely series of coincidences a profound sense of plausibility. An ultimate and entirely legitimate sense of destiny is revealed to all the characters that pass through the story, even in the most tangential way. The truths revealed by the surprise ending are truly devastating and completely unexpected, especially to those for whom the reality they thought they knew has been upended in ways that are unimaginable. --Ted Fry