Lubna Azabul Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin Maxim Gaudette
This film directed by a Canadian, Denis Villaneuve, was nominated for an Academy Award in the foreign language category. It’s a moving story about a brother (Simon) and sister (Jeanne) (twins) being called to hear what their mother, a secretary to a notary in Canada, has left them in her will. They are taken aback to find that she has given each an envelope—one for their father and one for their brother—with instructions to find these two relatives whose existence is heretofore unknown to them. Finding them requires a trip to the Middle East, the mother’s home country, but Simon (Maxim Gaudette) is not willing to go. He shows resentment toward his mother, whom he describes as “always confused.” Jeanne (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin), on the other hand, feels compelled to carry out her mother’s wishes, and she embarks on the journey. She is very intelligent—a math professor—which helps, because she must do a great deal of detective work to uncover her mother’s story.
Flashbacks of the mother’s life (acted by Lubna Azabul) are presented as Jeanne acquires the information, so the viewer gradually learns about previous events along with her. The story is as shocking to us as it is to Jeanne. Because of the import of what she discovers and the need for Simon’s assistance in uncovering all the truth, she eventually insists that he join her, which he does. In the process, they learn that their mother was an amazing, brave woman who went through many trials. The story proceeds like any detective novel, and the viewer is on the edge of the seat most of the time. Surprising turns take place right up to the end
In addition to being an engaging story, the film makes a very strong point about the futility of fighting and hurting others because of religious beliefs. The mother was a Christian who fell in love with a Muslim, and there the trouble begins. Because of her conscientiousness and sense of responsibility, she goes through many trials before finally she ends up in Canada with her two children.
The film also provokes questions about family secrets—whether transparency is always a good idea. Nawal, the mother, clearly wanted her children to know the truth at last, but whether or not that was a good idea is worthy of discussion.
Grade: A By: Donna R. Copeland