Incendies (R) (130 min.) — "Childhood is a knife stuck in your throat," a dead woman's will informs her twin children. "It can't be easily removed." The siblings will discover that knife is double-edged on an odyssey to discover their roots, through an unidentified Middle Eastern country's war zone memories. Maybe Palestine or Lebanon, but it's really anywhere ravaged by extremism, terror and regret.
The twins are Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette), whose mother Nawal (Lubna Azabal) took a secret to her grave but left clues in her will. The siblings are instructed to find the father they never met and the half brother they didn't know existed. Simon isn't interested, but Jeanne picks up the trail, quickly learning that her mother is a disgrace to her homeland for reasons writer-director Denis Villeneuve stealthily reveals in flashbacks.
Jeanne learns her mother, a Christian, became pregnant with her half brother by a Muslim, and that's only her first shocking discovery. Villeneuve delivers more — including a gut-punch finale straining credulity — in a mystery set amid collateral damage from sectarian violence. Incendies is a gallery of nightly news atrocities — a bus massacre, rape, children with guns — yet it's made intensely personal under the director's steady hand.
Incendies earned a deserved Academy Award nomination for best foreign-language film. Shown with English subtitles. A (BayWalk 20 in St. Petersburg)
Steve Persall, Times film critic