← Back to Reviews

Denis Villeneuve, Canada

Extremely powerful drama about secrets buried in the past and their ability to overwhelm generations of the wounded when uncovered. In modern day Québec, two adult children, twins Jeanne and Simon (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin & Maxim Gaudette), find in their recently deceased mother's will two mysterious sealed letters, one addressed to "the father" and given to Jeanne, the other addressed to "the son" and given to Simon. In that instant they learn that their father, who they were told died when they were infants thirty years ago, is alive and that they have a half-brother they never even knew existed. They are tasked with returning to their mother's homeland, Palestine, to find both men and deliver the letters before she will allow herself to be buried. Simon wants no part of this, but Jeanne dutifully and filled with much curiosity returns to Palestine to learn about her mother as a young woman in the 1970s, caught up in the war between Christians and Muslims in those turbulent years.

Through flashbacks we see their mom, Nawal (Lubna Azabal), from the ages of a teenager to her thirties, from a girl expelled from her village by her family to a student leaning toward revolution, then the way she is ground up time and again by the war, but always managing to survive...even as her humanity is stripped from her bit by bit. To say her children had no idea of her sacrifices and tragedies is an understatement, and as they uncover enough of the past and get closer to delivering their letters, they learn exactly how remarkable their mother was.

I can hardly wait to see this movie again. It's an ambitious opening up of a stage play by Wajdi Mouawad, and writer/director Denis Villeneuve weaves the narrative together seamlessly, juggling at least three different stories at once. The cast is very strong, especially Lubna Azabal (Paradise Now) as Nawal and Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin as her daughter (they look very much alike, they could be sisters). Azabal has to play such an incredible range of the character's life, physically and emotionally, and is really quite magnificent. André Turpin's cinematography is top-notch, and two Radiohead songs are used more perfectly than I would have imagined mixed with a good score by Grégoire Hetzel (Christmas Tale).