Incendies (NR) ★★★½

With his fourth film, Denis Villeneuve has hit a new career high. Incendies -based on Wajdi Mouawad's stage play- is the firecracker I've been waiting for this fall. Political, angry and thoroughly engrossing, Villeneuve's film is one of the year's best. It's then no surprise that it is Canada's official selection for the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2011. Don't be surprised if Incendies -brimming at a gripping 130 minutes- is one of the selected five nominees. Sony Pictures Classic has picked up the film for an early 2011 release & has put its hopes on a film that has garnered nothing but buzz since its current bows at the Telluride and Toronto film fest- where it won Best Canadian Film.

The film's central story takes place both in present day Montreal & in a Middle East filled with corruption and violence. Brother and Sister lose mother and then consequently find out that they have a father they thought was dead and a brother they never thought existed. Through flashbacks the story of their mother's ordeal is told and through current day events, the sister finds out things she never knew about her mother, a past filled with pain and sorrow. The torching and shooting of a Muslim filled bus by christian radicals is the centerpiece of this tough movie. It's a sequence breathlessly shot and horrifying to watch in its authenticity. Villeneuve means to shake us and he does.

Villeneuve proved with last year's Polytechnique that he hadn't lost the touch that gave him his reputation with Maelstrom more than 10 years ago. Here, his style is more low key as he pulls a kind of Aronofksy with this picture. This is his Wrestler. A film that has a more low key style that isn't substantiated for plot and is inspired by classical Hollywood cinema. The film had me hanging by every tread as it drew closer and closer to its conclusion. Villeneuve tries to manipulate time by going back and forth from past to present day to show us the similarities between mother and daughter in their quest to find a sibling.

The performances are extraordinary, starting with the mother played by Lubna Azabal- she brings a quiet intensity to her ordeal as a christian good girl gone rebel bad- in a shocking scene, she sets out to shoot a top political figure by working with him and teaching his son how to speak and write french. When the time to kill finally arrives, you feel every inch of nervousness she has at that moment. Notable kudos must also be given to Melissa Desormaux Poulin, who plays the daughter that tries to retrace her mother's every step and consequently finds out deep, impenetrable secrets her mother once had. This is a movie all about images and moments and Villeneuve invigorates his movie with everlasting images that will stay in your head.

The way Villeneuve tells his story is original and visionary, something missing in current day cinema. His middle eastern nightmare vision is a film that creeps up on you from its first frame to its last. I was also completely taken back by its final twisty revelation that only puts the icing on the cake. The film will more than likely find a comfort zone from both critics and audiences when it finally gets released in the States. Villeneuve hasn't really gotten the reputation he deserves south of the border and I think this film might just finally do it for him- it's a hell of a triumph an I couldn't be more proud it comes from Montreal.