The last will and testament of an emotionally remote mother sparks an investigation into the past in Incendies, Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad’s play. That inquiry is carried out by French-Canadian Arab twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) after they hear from notary and family friend Jean (Rémy Girard) that their mom Nawal’s (Lubna Azabel) final wish was for them to deliver letters to the father they thought was dead and the brother they didn’t know existed. These instructions lead the amenable Jeanne and intractable Simon to leave their native Quebec for an unnamed Middle East country that resembles Lebanon, where mysteries await about Nawal’s role in a ruinous war between Muslims and Christians, a tale that inevitably intertwines the personal and the political in increasingly harrowing ways. Hypnotically blending physical spaces and time frames, Villeneuve’s material vacillates between Jeanne and Simon’s journey and Nawal’s troubled early years, which involved a pregnancy with a Muslim rebel that cast shame on her Christian family, her later near-fatal experiences at the hands of a death squad, and her assassination activism against her fellow Christian militiamen. The effect of such a structure is to convey the persistent pull of what’s come before on the present, as well as how those disparate eras are (like two sides of a conflict) engaged in constant states of retaliation. Via a script and visual schema that constantly separates characters and events, the film narratively and aesthetically addresses the traumatic fissures born from exiled existence. Depicting violence with bluntness and exhibiting empathy for its protagonists’ quests for individual and familial identity, Incendies’ culminates with a finale that hinges on geographic and pure-luck coincidences that (like a recurring mathematical theme) are contrived enough to indelicately reveal the author’s manipulative hand. Regardless, they don’t mitigate the emotional stomach-punch shock of the story’s climactic Greek tragedy bombshells, which make horrifyingly real the fact that civil wars are ultimately crimes against ourselves and those we love the most.