Incendies plays out like a book. It starts on the perfect hook and slowly the mystery is unwrapped, allowing the audience to suddenly realize (at their own pace and perception) the core of the story.
In this sense, the hook is masterful. A daughter and son are meeting with the attorney of their Lebanese mother’s estate – she’s passed away after suffering a seizure at the local pool in present-day Canada. So first the kids are surprised when mom’s burial instructions are a tad… unconventional. But then the hammer blow – each is given a letter. The daughter is to locate their father (assumed dead so many years in Lebanon during the civil war). The son is to locate a brother (an unknown and unsuspected sibling). They are to deliver these letters to those people.
And so begins a mission to discover the truth, the daughter traveling to Lebanon to retrace her mother’s steps twenty years prior, the son sulking in Canada, wanting nothing to do with it. And like a book, the director masterfully hops from past to present and back again, giving us clues and reason as we need them, if not a little after. So many “ah ha” moments.
And I’ll note this – I did not really understand the scale and horror of the Lebanese Civil War until seeing this movie. Hell, I didn’t know anything about it at all. A friend who’d seen the movie suggested I wiki it, just so I wasn’t going in cold. And I’m still amazed – this all happened? In my time? And I was oblivious to it?
In that sense, Incendies is like a very good book. I was entertained and the world opened up a little more for me.