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Film Review: Incendies * * * * *

Heavily garlanded at international film festivals, and recipient of a thoroughly-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, Incendies is a tough sell (French-Canadian movie, in Arabic, about war and death), and a tough watch at times, but it's well worth your time.

Combining elements of mystery, thriller, and tragedy, Incendies (translated as scorched) opens in present-day Canada where twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon Marwan (Maxim Gaudette) find two letters contained within their late mother's will -- one for the father they thought was dead and another for a brother they never knew existed. This enigmatic inheritance prompts Jeanne to travel to her mother's native land to dig into her past.

Through flashbacks, we learn how young Nawal Marwan (played with a ferocious commitment by the extraordinary Lubna Azabal) gave birth to a child she was then forced to give up. The movie continues to follow Nawal's progress from student in the 70s, through her direct activist role in a war, involving massacres, rape and imprisonment. As Jeanne and Simon get closer to the truth of their mother's life, their heritage becomes more complex than they had imagined.

Adapted from a stage play by Wajdi Mouawad, and directed by Denis Villeneuve, Incendies is a slow-burner, but it masterfully builds its tension, slowly unfurling its twists and tragic revelations to ultimately devastating effect.

Uncomfortably graphic and gruelling in parts -- not even children are spared in this war movie -- Incendies is probably too long for its own good. Its parallels with the ongoing Arab Spring, and especially the role women are playing in the uprisings, lends this unrelentingly, violent and tragic story a powerful topicality. Don't miss it.

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