Incendies (Director: Denis Villeneuve): Surely the best Canadian film of last year, and deservedly nominated for an Academy Award®, Incendies tells an epic and yet personal story of war, divided families, and devastating secrets. When their mother dies suddenly, twins Simon and Jeanne are shocked that her will assigns them the task of returning to their Middle Eastern homeland to deliver two letters, one to the father they thought was dead, and one to a brother they never knew they had.
Though the country is never referred to by name, it’s almost certainly Lebanon, which suffered through a bitter civil war that raged from 1975 until 1990. The film flashes back and forth between the present (the twins’ quest to find their missing relatives) and the past (their mother Nawal’s long and surprising journey from her homeland to Canada), and through the masterful editing, we discover some shocking family secrets at precisely the same time as Simon and Jeanne, even though we’ve been following Nawal’s story too. It’s an impressive feat, and just one of many in this superb and moving film.
The only bonus feature on the disc is a 44-minute documentary feature entitled “Remembering the Ashes,” but it’s worthy of a watch. It focuses on the many extras used in the film, and it was interesting to discover that almost all of them were Palestinian, Lebanese or Iraqi refugees living in Jordan. As we see the film crew shooting several of the more violent scenes, the extras share their own experiences of war. On the other hand, it’s depressing to hear the local villagers defending the practice of honour killing as well as boasting of their implacable hatred of “the Jews.”