26 June 2011

The Sins of the Fathers...

Ahead of going to see Bridesmaids tomorrow, I thought I'd better balance things out by watching a much darker, deeper film. Having seen the trailer for Incendies almost every week at the Curzon for the past month or so, I knew it would definitely fit the bill.

Jeanne and Simon Marwan (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette, respectively) are 20-something twins living in Montreal. Their mother, Nawal, has recently -- and suddenly -- died and they are called to the notary to hear their mother's will. She leaves everything to them but says that they aren't allowed to give her a gravestone or an epitaph until they have helped her keep a promise by finding their father and their brother and delivering them each a letter.

Except they thought their father, whom they never met, was dead and they didn't know they had a brother. Simon doesn't want to play but Jeanne searches her mother's apartment for clues, finds her passport, a crucifix and a few other things and heads off to the unnamed Middle Eastern country (probably Lebanon) where their mother was born and grew up. Her mathematics supervisor sets up a meeting with a contact at the university where Nawal studied but this is just the start of a long and complicated search for the truth. "You're looking for your father and brother but you don't really know your mother," one of the characters tells her.

Jeanne's search is interspersed with her mother's story, starting with her Muslim boyfriend being murdered by her brothers because he slept with their Christian sister, bringing shame upon the family. But Nawal was pregnant and so her grandmother makes a deal: she'll arrange to have the baby adopted as long as Nawal heads to the big city and gets an education. All goes to plan until civil war breaks out and, guilt-stricken, Nawal hurries into the war zone in the south to try to rescue her son from the orphanage. Nawal's search turns out to be as fruitless as Jeanne's, at least initially. The latter eventually begins to find clues, with the help of the notary and Simon, who eventually comes to join her. But let's just say that there aren't any joyous reunions. "Sometimes it's best not to know everything," says a man who knew Nawal while she was in prison to Jeanne.

Based on a stage play by Wajdi Mouawad, itself loosely borrowing from Sophocles, Incendies didn't feel much like it had been adapted from a play, although at 2 hours 10 minutes, it could have done with some tighter editing. But despite its length the story was very gripping and the characters -- especially the female leads -- were engaging. There are plenty of twists and turns and although I didn't see most of them coming, I didn't anticipate the big reveal, which was devastating. And in case it isn't emo enough (and it's plenty emo), songs from the Radiohead album Amnesiac play from time to time...

Incendies isn't the film to see if you're in the mood for some light-hearted cinematic fun but if you're in the mood for something heavy-going but rewarding, I'd highly recommend it.

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