Incendies (15)

4.00

Starring: Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette

Denis Villeneuve's tormented family drama strips off one layer of meaning after another on its way to a thoroughly jolting terminus.

French-Canadian twins Jeanne (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxime Gaudette) are left an enigmatic will by their late mother (Lubna Azabal), who asks them to find a father they never knew and a brother they didn't even know they had. The request takes them to a Middle Eastern country (unnamed, but very like Lebanon) where Jeanne's gradual uncovering of her mother's past shines a light on a deeply tainted personal and political legacy. Villeneuve, adapting from Wajdi Mouawad's 2003 play, adroitly cuts between the 1970s and the present, racking up the suspense at times to thriller level while assessing the history of a land traumatised by internecine violence. The ambushing of a civilian bus by right-wing Christian militia is but the first incident in an horrific pageant of torture and murder. Azabal carries the historic burden of sorrow in a performance of reverberant intensity, but the twin siblings are also powerfully characterised. Once you're out of the film and unpicking the network of fate and coincidence, it may seem rather incredible; but while it's happening you can't tear your eyes from it.

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