OF THE FOUR 2010 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominees to have played Charlotte — the fifth, Algeria's Outside the Law, seems unlikely to reach our city at this point — Canada's Incendies ranks as the only one remotely worthy of the prize (the actual winner was Denmark's so-so In a Better World).
Moving back and forth in time, the movie initially focuses on twin siblings Jeanne and Simon Marwan (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette) as they attend the reading of their mother's will. In a letter given to their lawyer and family friend (Remy Girard), the late Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal) writes of shameful secrets in her past and instructs her children to journey from Canada to the Middle East to locate the father they thought had died and the brother they never knew they had. This odyssey uncovers a horrific family history (shown in ample flashbacks) replete with murder, rape and religious intolerance.
Narratively propulsive and visually explosive (it's hard to believe this was once a stage play), Incendies is a disturbing picture that piles on the tragedies like layers on a wedding cake, and the final twist will prove to be too much for many viewers. But the examination of the absurdity behind faith-based conflicts should strike a chord with all viewers, and Azabal's excellent performance remains honest even when the picture around her occasionally takes a few baby steps toward contrivance.