In this French-Canadian film by Denis Villeneuve, two grown children of Nawal, a recently deceased woman, are summoned to a notary's office. Each child is given a letter to deliver: Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) is instructed to find their brother and give it to him, while Simon (Maxim Gaudette) is told to find their father. We retrace Nawal's harsh life as a young woman in the 1970s, when she conceived her children amid incredibly harsh circumstances, and we also follow the progress of Jeanne and Simon as they try to unravel their mother's past in honoring her last wishes. The result is a harrowing trip through Middle Eastern violence. One drawback of the film, however, is its insistence on fictionalizing atrocities that are clearly modeled on events in Lebanon. Complex issues are reduced to simple hatred between Christians and Muslims, and the film ultimately relies on tidy closure and amazing coincidences that experienced movie watchers will anticipate well in advance, we're still left sobered by the suffering some people endure. As Nawal, the Belgian actress Lubna Azabal (whose credits include a lead role in Hany Abu-Assad's Paradise Now
) gives a powerful performance as a kind of vessel of human suffering.