Writer and director Denis Villeneuve’s latest feature film starts with a beautiful opening shot that goes from a lovely pastoral Middle East scene into a room in a undisclosed building where young boys are waiting to have their heads shorn. A wee lad is coming to the end of what we used to call a severe haircut and stares straight into the camera with a look your never forget. This short scene, accompanied by the Radio Head track You and Whose Army, becomes entirely clear at the end of the film increasing its potency. We move quickly to an office in Quebec Canada, in this room are three people, Jean Lebel (Remy Gerard) a notary and the twins Jeanne and Simon Marwan (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette) who are there for the reading of the will of their recently deceased mother, Nawal Marwen (Lubna Azabel). They are handed two sealed envelopes and informed of the funeral instructions laid down by her, and told that her wishes must be followed explicitly. She is to be buried face down, naked, with no memorial or headstone unless certain conditions are met. The sealed envelopes are to be delivered by hand to their father, who they understood to be dead, and an elder brother they had no idea existed. This task leads them to a fictionalized Middle Eastern Country and their journey enlightens them about their mother’s enthralling life, about which they had no previous inclination.
|Brother and Sister study their Mothers will.|
Adapted by Villeneuve from Wajdi Mouawad’s three and a half hour stage play called Scorched, Incendies (2010) is shown in flashbacks between modern day and the 1970’s and 80’s war torn Middle East where we are told a civil war is taking place between the Muslims and the Christians allegedly based on the Lebanese civil war that was taking place during that period.
This extremely powerful film has the most intriguing and complex narrative, almost like a detective story, a thriller or a Greek tragedy that reveals it’s hidden secrets gradually. A film helped by its wonderful central female character, strongly portrayed by Lubna Azabel (Coriolanus 2011) mainly seen in flashback. The French-Canadian director also used non-professional’s that had actually experienced some of the brutal incidents seen in the film, giving the screenplay an authenticity.