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Incendies PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
27 07 2011

ImageDirected by Denis Villeneuve

A film that holds you in its grip by the sheer power of its story; a film that takes themes from old stories and myth and locates them in a world we know; a film that is relentless in plunging us into a savage and non-western view of middle east conflict - any one of these is something to applaud; to find them all in one film is a small miracle. And that's what we have here in this French-language Canadian Foreign Language Oscar nominee. Even more amazing is the fact that it is based on a play - there can't be many stage works that have translated so seamlessly into film. It's cinematic through and through.

It begins like an old tale, with a mother's mysterious death; pair of orphaned twins; a will; a lost child; and letters to be delivered to unknown people in a far off land. Twins Jeanne and Simon, brought up in Canada by their single Lebanese mother, are sent out on her death to find and deliver letters to their unknown father and a brother they never knew they had. What follows is a journey that gradually uncovers their mother's background as one shockingly different from the woman they knew, and a family history in an alien land where warring religious groups perpetrated the worst savageries on each other. It's completely absorbing, told with terrific narrative skill that keeps you on the journey with them, through the horrors, wanting to know along with them what it will lead to but with an increasing dread as to what that might be. Villeneuve has an understanding of the knack of suspense which the best story-tellers , from Sophocles to Hitchcock, have known: that to let the audience realise the truth marginally before the protagonists do is the most teasing and devastating of all, far more powerful than keeping them in the dark. On the level of a thriller, of a middle-east political drama (almost a genre itself nowadays, though how refreshing to see the conflict there from a local perspective rather than as a tragedy for the westerners involved ), or of a family tragedy, it's superb. There are strong performances from the Belgian actress Lubna Azabal as Nawal the mother, who ages over 40 years in the course of the film (also a powerful performer in another exceptional film about the Middle East, Paradise Now), and Melissa Desormais-Poulin as the pro-active twin Jeanne, making the film a genuinely felt drama, and the use of coincidence, far from undermining the realism, instead adds to the mythic and tragic weight of the story.

Seen at Tyneside Cinema Newcastle, 19 July 2011

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