Incendies

Director Denis Villeneuve adapts Wajdi Mouawad’s play, whose title means “scorched,” with a careful balance of sensitivity and ferocity. Two Canadian siblings (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette) receive instructions from their Middle Eastern mother (Lubna Azabal), upon her death, to find the father they never knew and the half-brother they never knew existed. Their quest leads to an unnamed but highly Lebanon-like country whose ravages of patriarchal religious militancy, played out in a hypnotic and horrifying spiral of atrocities, shaped their mother’s life. Stacking up political and family melodrama in a big heap of classical and contemporary tragedy, Villeneuve manages not to be morose, nor to exploit the enraged cyclical violence he depicts. Although obliquely composed, formally chapterized, Radiohead-abetted and occasionally pretentious or even preposterous, “Incendies” powers itself with wise and subtle performances — especially from the women, whose multi-faceted fortitude burns brightly behind their eyes. Hollywood hasn’t really been able to handle anything like this for decades, but at least had the sense to nominate it for a Foreign Language Oscar last year.