IN MONTREAL, a twin brother and sister are called in to hear the reading of their mother’s last will and testament

Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Starring Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Rémy Girard 131mins, club, IFI members

IN MONTREAL, a twin brother and sister are called in to hear the reading of their mother’s last will and testament. Jean (Désormeaux- Poulin) and Nawal (Azabal) are shocked when the document asks that they find the father they believed dead and a brother they never knew they had.

They are even more shocked when their investigations lead them to the unnamed Middle Eastern country where their late mom once earned her stripes as a freedom fighter. Who knew?

Their efforts are punctuated by flashbacks to their mother’s youth and a traumatic life played out against what looks like the Lebanese civil war. A suffering everywoman mother experiences every conceivable horror; her fiance dies in an honour killing, her first child is spirited away to an orphanage, her attempts to fight back end with years of jail time and a daily routine of interrogation and rape.


Scripted and helmed by Denis Villeneuve, this muscular French-Canadian drama is not short on drama and revelations. Challenging and controversial themes play out in accessible soapy riffs. Violence and brutality are offset by gorgeous, swooping long takes. If anything, it’s a little too polished; narrative strands are dutifully tidied away into neat little bundles and dreamy, ravishing tableaux shoot for that big David Lean sky.

Like this year's As If I Am Not There, Incendiesoccasionally forgets that ugly, disjointed events demand an ugly, disjointed aesthetic.

A favourite on the awards circuit – Villeneuve's film won nine Genies and secured an Oscar nod earlier this year – Incendieslooks like an Academy Award winner of old. At the level of the sentence, it's Sophie's Choiceand Inherit the Wind. The performances are stately and appealing. The melodrama is deftly and teasingly developed. And the small domestic crisis at the heart Wajdi Mouawad's play Scorched– which provided the source material for the film – is exploded into huge questions about national identity, religion, politics and the whole shebang.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic