After their mother Nawal (Azabal in flashbacks) dies, twins Jeanne and Simon (Desormeaux-Poulin and Gaudette) are given a quest by their mother's notary-boss (Girard): they must track down both their father and the brother they never knew they had. To accomplish this, they must travel to the Middle East and dig into their mother's background. And what they find is wholly unexpected, as Nawal's story is entwined with the violence of the region.
Piecing together the events is going to change them profoundly.
The central theme is that we can never really move forward without facing up to the uncomfortable truths from our past. So as Jeanne and Simon stumble into some mind-bending revelations, we can see that their future will be both tainted and liberated. Meanwhile, their journey is crosscut with Nawal's story, which moves in eerie parallels even as the events of her life are unthinkable to her children.
Writer-director Villeneuve assembles this with a fine attention to detail that grabs us from the opening shot of young boys being inducted into a rebel army.
This haunting sequence grows in significance as the story progresses, while Villeneuve inventively uses music and editing to link story strands together.
The result is beautiful, tragic and hopeful, and it feels almost like all of these events, which span some 35 years, are happening simultaneously, even as there is also a sense of both history and the passage of time.
The story is so universal, and so deliberately un-specific in its place and time, that it can't help but push all kinds of emotional buttons. We may not be able to identify with the Middle Eastern culture and the blurry conflict there, but we viscerally feel the parent-child themes that flood through every scene.
We understand the characters' longing to find someone they can trust in a scary situation. And we know that the characters' search for peace of mind might hold a clue for a larger peace in the region.
Run time: 139 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 12th January 2011
Box Office USA: $6.9M
Box Office Worldwide: $7.1M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Production compaines: TS Productions, Micro scope, Phi Group
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Fresh: 109 Rotten: 9
IMDB: 8.2 / 10
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Producer: Luc Dery, Kim McCraw
Screenwriter: Denis Villeneuve
Also starring: Remy Girard