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By Mark Bell | January 22, 2011

This review was originally published on September 12, 2010

Denis Villeneuve’s latest film is a spectacular experience; the type of epic family mystery that is a Greek tragedy delivered to modern times.

The set-up for the film is thus: Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal) has died. Her former boss, notary Lebel (Rémy Girard), has become the executor of her estate and is reading Nawal’s will to her two children, twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette). All seems innocent enough, until Lebel hands over two envelopes to the twins, with instructions from Nawal for Jeanne to deliver one envelope to their father, and for Simon to deliver one envelope to their brother, otherwise Nawal will not be at peace, and will not approve of being buried in a respectable fashion. Simple enough, except the twins were told their father has been dead for a very long time and this is the first either has heard of another sibling. So how do they deliver the letters?

From that point on, the film moves first with Jeanne as she attempts to make good on her mother’s request (Simon, thinking their mother went nuts in her final days, is less receptive to the mystery). As Jeanne gets her starting point, the film tells the tale of Nawal simultaneously, hopping back and forth between time periods to reveal the story of one woman’s tragic life amid religious conflict in the Middle East. I’d say more, but from what I’ve seen, by even reading the basic synopsis of the film myself, nothing written seems to do the film its full, deserved justice. You just need to see it.

“Incendies” is a mystery to rank at the top of the list with the best of them, revealing itself slowly at some points and rapid at others (but perfect all the while). Also like the best films, nothing is wasted. Seemingly unimportant moments on screen pay off somewhere and, for the first time in a long time, I couldn’t predict where the film was going. The cinematography is haunting, the acting emotionally resonant and the entire film compelling from frame one to the finish.

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  1. Mark Bell says:

    Nicholai, up until about 30 minutes ago, “Incendies” did not have a distributor. The film has now been acquired by Sony Pictures Classics.

  2. Nicholai says:

    Have you considered including producer/distributor information in reviews? I love reading these and use them for inspiration for our own nonprofit film society, but sometimes it is difficult to find out who to contact for performance rights.

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