| The Academy Award voters made the right choice in bestowing “The King’s Speech” with the Oscar for Best Picture, but in my opinion have selected the wrong movie for two years in a row for Best Foreign Language Film. In 2010, France’s submission “A Prophet” was far superior to the winning “The Secret in Their Eyes” from Argentina. This year’s faux pas was selecting the Denmark entry “In a Better World” over this multi-layered masterpiece from Canada, which is the best film I have watched so far this year.
Quebec filmmaker Denis Villeneuve in the dual role of writer and director has adapted this cinematic gem from the play “Scorched” written by Wajdi Mouawad. Mouawad, born in 1968, fled the civil war in Lebanon with his family. They went to France and shortly after settled in Canada.
This war drama opens in the Montreal office of notary Jean Lebel (Remy Girard from “The Barbarian Invasions”) with the reading of the last will and testament of Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal from “Paradise Now”) to her surviving heirs, twin siblings Jeanne and Simon Marwan (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette). Nawal worked 18 years as Lebel’s secretary and named him as the executor of her estate.
In her will, Nawal makes two unusual requests. There is a sealed envelope addressed “to the father.” Nawal wants her daughter Jeanne to find him and deliver it. A second sealed envelope is addressed “to the son.” Nawal wants Simon to perform the task of finding this surprise person and deliver the letter.
The final paragraph states that when the two envelopes are delivered, the twins will be given a third letter addressed to them. The silence will be broken, a promise kept and a stone can then be placed on their mother’s grave.
This begins a journey back to the past in which the twins will discover their ancestral roots. They will also get a completely different perspective on the bravery, courage and passion of their late mother.
Although the movie was actually shot in Amman, Jordan, and the Middle Eastern country is never named, it is obvious that the struggle in Lebanon between the right-wing Maronite-oriented Christian militia and the leftist PLO-funded Muslims on the side of the Palestinian refugees shapes Nawal’s ultimate fate.
The movie alternates in linear parallel storylines tracing Nawal’s past from when she brought disgrace upon her family’s honor all the way up to her Montreal relocation in a quasi-witness protection program.
The movie plays out like a page-turning novel that you can’t put down. There are a number of shocking revelations that take you completely by surprise. The acting is outstanding, especially the facial reactions when the truth creates a powerful impact that changes everything.
The movie gets high marks in cinematography, sound, art direction, production design, makeup and editing. Music is used sparingly, but quite effective.
This emotionally moving story brings the violence, hatred and extremism existing in our world today down to a more understandable personal level. The power within us to survive despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles is gloriously illustrated in this artistic achievement.
The dialogue is in French and Arabic with easy-to-read English subtitles. Now playing for a limited engagement at AMC Town Center 20, Glenwood Red Bridge and the Tivoli in Westport.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"