This French Canadian production from co-writer/director Denis Villeneuve (Maelstrom) is a familial mystery set in the Middle East of the past and present. Following a reading of their mother Nawal’s will, Quebec-based twin siblings Jeanne and Simon are given two envelopes, one of which is for their father, who they thought was long dead, and the other for their brother, whose existence they were unaware of. Headstrong Jeanne heads to the Middle East to uncover the secrets of her hidden heritage and is joined eventually by her reluctant brother. Together they explore the brutal, secret history of “The Woman Who Sings”, as their mother is known over there, which leads to a climactic reveal that could give Oldboy a run for its money.
The Academy Award-nominated Incendies is an exploitation film hidden behind the veil of a foreign art house flick, complete with intermittent full-screen titles in bold red text. Or, if you prefer, it’s a modern take on a Greek tragedy that leads me to wonder if those plays of old are actually the precursors to the twisty genre films that discriminating audiences have come to love. In either case, the horrors of the Middle East are explored in extreme detail throughout the course of its 130 minute running time, which is a bit lengthy to appeal to mainstream audiences who would otherwise be attracted to this well-made mystery. The answers to the twins’ questions may ultimately come across as silly to some, but Villeneuve treats all of his subject matter with an utmost seriousness and sincerity. A welcome change of pace from the usual tales of terrorism.
Incendies opens today at the Ritz East.