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Our Love Became a Funeral Pyre
alexart-126 March 2011
When people watch the Oscars, they don't usually care about the Best Foreign Film nominees. Incendies provides so many reasons why people should actually get to see those nominees at all costs. Incendies is the kind of film that one walks away from feeling emotionally drained, one where it stays in the viewer's mind for days on end. Like an intense personal experience, it takes a lot to come to grips with the film's story, a moving plot full of twists and catharsis. At the New Directors/New Films Festival in New York, at which I saw this last night, Denis Villeneuve explained that he has made four films in Canada, but this is the first one to be released in America. Right now, I see no reason why Villeneuve, or any of the actors for that matter, shouldn't have a great future ahead of them.

Based on the play Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad, Incendies follows a non-linear plot that spans two generations. In the present day, Jeanne and Simon are twins who have lost their mother, Nawal. Nawal has stipulated in her will that Jeanne and Simon must return an envelope to the brother they didn't know existed who is currently living in a fictional Middle Eastern country. Only then can the twins give Nawal a proper burial. Jeanne feels obligated to return the letter, so she goes to the Middle East, only to realize some of Nawal's nastiest secrets. As Jeanne uncovers more about Nawal, the viewer is shown Nawal's story. The film builds up to an unforgettable ending that is sure to rock any viewer.

Incendies already had great source material. I've praised the plot enough, but one thing I must add is that the play is apparently four hours long, according to Villeneuve. It's impressive that this movie succeeds so nicely because I can't imagine that anything was cut. But to back up that source material, there's some really great acting. The entire cast plays their parts with such an emotional vigor that it seems impossible that this work of art wasn't autobiographical.

Furthermore, Villeneuve has made a film that relies on great filmmaking to impact the viewer. The cinematography is beautifully bland, surely a nod to some of the deserts in the Lebanon- like land where the movie takes place. Color scheme is also used to Villeneuve's advantage to show the parallels between Nawal and Jeanne's lives. Villeneuve seems to love working with extended zoom shots that shock the viewer with their overwhelmingly long silences. Why Villeneuve didn't receive critical acclaim (in America, at least) before Incendies is a mystery.

There are many movies about the Middle East. Some have failed miserably in their attempts to strike an emotional chord with critics and viewers alike (Redacted, Rendition), but others have been extremely successful (The Hurt Locker, Lebanon). Incendies could very well be one of the best films ever made about the conflicts in the Middle East. It has its flaws which keep it from being a masterpiece (maybe it could've lost five or ten minutes), but it is that rare type of film that really resonates beyond the initial viewing. Hopefully, Incendies will be remembered for years to come as the little, brilliant film that spawned the great fame of Denis Villeneuve.
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corrosion-215 October 2010
A bona fide masterpiece. As simple as that. It is ironic that one of the best films about the Middle East conflict, and specifically the tragic civil war in Lebanon, should be made by a Canadian film maker. Incendies is based on a play but it feels as though it has been adapted from a great literary work. In fact there is no specific mention of any country in the film but no one can be in any doubt that the unnamed country is Lebanon.

A Canadain-Lebanese woman dies in Canada and in her will she leaves two letters to her twin son & daughter. One is to be delivered to their brother (whom they did not know existed) and the other to their father (whom they had presumed dead). To find these people they have to travel to Lebanon to unravel the mysterious past of their deceased mother. As we follow their search, flash backs slowly reveal to us key moments in the life of their mother.

There are extremely powerful and unforgettable images and scenes in Incendies. Suffice to say that even if you have no interest in the history of the Middle East, this film will capture your attention from the start and grips you right till the end. It is the third great film (and arguably the best)that I've seen on this topic after Waltz with Bashir and Lebanon. All of these are essential viewing.
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A work of devastating power...
ilpintl26 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
"Incendies (Scorched)" opened in town this Friday, just days before it made the short list of nominees for Best Foreign Film for this year's Academy Awards. It played in the Vancouver International Film Festival 2010, but I missed it then.

Fortunately, it received theatrical distribution; this devastating film on the horrors of conflict and its enormous human costs simply must be seen. Denis Villeneuve's searing work, his fourth feature, is based on the celebrated play of the same name by Montreal native and artistic director of the French Theatre at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa Wajdi Mouawad. While there is no doubting the immediacy and impact it must have had as a piece of theatre, "Incendies" benefits from the transition to the larger canvas of the big screen, appropriate for the epic themes and emotional conflagrations it tackles.

When their mother dies and her will is read, twins Jeanne and Simon Marwan are stumped by its bizarre burial instructions. Nawal Marwan states that she must be interred naked and facing away from the sun in an unmarked grave, until the two letters she has left with the family notary are delivered on her behalf. One is addressed to the father the twins believed dead, the second to a son whose existence comes as a complete surprise to them. The will makes the twins realize that they did not know their mother at all. They have not had an easy relationship with her, and are understandably reluctant to comply with her terms.

The daughter Jeanne moved away and found refuge in the abstract realms of pure mathematics. Her sibling Simon, who remained at home, had the more complicated relationship because he dealt daily with Nawal's strangeness. Jeanne agrees to deliver the letter that was left to her, and embarks on an odyssey of discovery, in search of the father she has never known. Later, she convinces Simon to join her.

Although the Middle Eastern country is never named in the film, Wajdi Mouawad ascribes the inspiration for his play to Soha Becharra, a woman who was imprisoned for six years in Khiam, southern Lebanon. In an interview with the Montreal Gazette, he explained "For me, the success of this play and the film is a way to give back some life to a woman whose life was taken away from her." The cinematic endeavor is hugely, powerfully successful: as Jeanne scours an alien land for clues of her mother's past, we see Nawal's tough life in flashback in the same locations that her daughter visits for the first time. Sectarian strife, tribal and religious warfare, family blood feuds, and honor killings have been the blight of the Middle East and areas as far as Afghanistan and what is now Pakistan, and parts of Africa. Bloodshed and violence have been a way of life; each side claims to be justified in killing to avenge earlier injustices. While humankind has not lost its baser urges—we just have to recall the recent incident of the young Afghani woman whose nose was hacked off, or the countless rapes in present day DR Congo—the film is a plea for reconciliation and forgiveness to bring about the much needed change.

Nawal barely escapes an honor killing due to her unwed pregnancy, gives up her baby son for adoption, and spends the rest of her life looking for this lost child. Along the way, she takes sides in the violence and is imprisoned for fifteen years for shooting a political leader. Upon her release, she begins life anew in Canada with her infant twins, the outcome of brutal rape at the hands of a torturer. Regardless of the change in geography, she remains haunted by the past and her unending quest for her lost child. How does one look for reparation and justice, when the perpetrators frequently flee the country of their misdeeds and seek asylum elsewhere? As she has not kept her word to her son to return to him, she feels unworthy of a proper burial. A character in the film wisely observes that death always leaves its traces, and Jeanne and Simon finally get to know their mother from the relics of her life.

The Belgian actress Lubna Azabal's heroic performance brings Nawal to awe-inspiring Brechtian life. Undefeated by each dehumanizing blow, she stoically navigates a war-crazed world devoid of any sense, her driving force is the need to reunite with her son. Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette do excellent work as the siblings who gradually begin to understand their mother. Rémy Girard and Allen Altman, playing the Canadian and Middle Eastern notaries respectively, guide the siblings through their search, while Abdelghafour Elaaziz makes an impact in the small but important role of Abou Tarek the torture specialist. The rest of the characters are brought to life by a talented cast of unknown actors; in their hands, even the smallest roles acquire great significance. Denis Villeneuve's film honors the stories of these people by rigorously avoiding directorial excesses. Events and stories this powerful do not require embellishment, and Villeneuve's spare, dispassionate directorial style maximizes impact.

Someone remarked that "Incendies" is the closest contemporary approximation of Greek tragedy, and I agree with this assessment: the crimes and consequences are universal and timeless, and if a film holds up a mirror to question our capacity for barbarism, it is reason to applaud. Regardless of the outcome at the Academy Awards, "Incendies" is a major achievement for Canadian cinema.
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freddyatali21 September 2010
Denis Villeneuve has created nothing less than a masterpiece. This film is revealing a great Director, especially when given an original story with such powerful dimensions.

Despite being skeptical as first of the film being shot in Jordan, when dealing with the very specific, multidimensional Lebanese drama, the geographic distance with the land of Lebanon is detaching the film from the strict reality of the place and taking it to whole other level of significance. Jordan's landscape especially with the film's photography, are somewhat surrealistic, as if the story was taking place in a deep level of the region's sub-conscious.

Villeneuve has managed to delicately craft a story with dimensions that a human mind in its normal condition is not prepared to understand and confront. And yet these things did happen, many times during the war and retelling them is a very not an easy task. Actually a quasi impossible one and yet Villeneuve did it.

This has to be the film representing Canada at the Oscars. And it will win.
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Fantastic! Villeneuve's best film yet
vsdobbs13 September 2010
This film is extraordinary on just about every level. The script is terrific, the actors are perfect, the direction and cinematography are all you could hope for. I recommend it without hesitation.

Anyone who has seen any of Villeneuve's previous work--or Andre Turpin's Zigrail--knows that these filmmakers have bodies of work that are almost without peer in contemporary cinema world-wide and are unparallelled in the history of Canadian cinema (until seeing Incendies, Maelstrom was my favourite Canadian film). Incendies does not betray that "legacy". You should absolutely see it.

In a film as stunning as this one it's odd to single out one aspect, but I must say that Lubna Azabal's performance is among the best I've ever seen. Though I've watched a few films that she's been in in the past, she never really stood out for me. She is devastatingly good in this picture.

I do hope that this film gets submitted to the AMPAS for Oscar selection as it is definitely the best film I've seen this year and a shoe-in for the foreign picture Oscar.

My only complaint about the film was the use of music by Radiohead, which took me out of the film each time it played. The rest of the music cues were spot-on and quite excellent, but Thom Yorke's voice belonged nowhere near this film.
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A Nutshell Review: Incendies
DICK STEEL13 August 2011
The film begins in sweeping slow motion, centered around a harsh cemented premises with a bunch of boys undergoing the shaving of their hair ala military fashion, with the camera centered on one boy possessing this crazed looking eyes, before cutting to Canada where twins Jeanne and Simon Marwan (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette respectively) arrive at a notary's office to accept the will of their recently deceased mother Nawal (Lubna Azabal), where they are left with letters to deliver to a father and brother that they do not know. In the meantime, they are to bury their mother in a certain strange way until their quest has been completed, with the notary Jean Lebel (Remy Girard), Nawal's boss the last few years, ensuring that her last will and testament is completed the way it was intended.

Incendies, based upon the play Scorched written by Wajdi Mouawad and adapted for the screen by director Denis Villeneuve, was this year's Best Foreign Language Film nominee from Canada, and there's every reason why it was a nomination well deserved. Set against a mystery to be unraveled so slowly, bringing together seemingly disparate events together in shocking fashion by the time we're through, the narrative is split into two different timelines, with the current one being the twins' journey to an unnamed Middle Eastern country in search for clues to their unknown father and brother, while with each milestone achieved of sorts, we get to see a flashback to the time of their mother, brought up in a harsh environment involving the staining of family honour, as well as religious zealots and militants who set her off in a tale of an avenging angel, and sacrifice.

And the story sprawls in many directions, though with Villeneuve always having an assured hand in not having this fall into melodramatic terms nor have any wasted scenes, highlighting issues that still exist to this very day involving hatred, revenge and forgiveness, but not before laying down a number of surprises that will shake you to the core especially when the mysterious equation finally gets solved – you may get a hint of what's to come, but this got handled so expertly without being verbatim, that it accentuates and compounds the myriad of complex emotions felt by all the characters involved.

With sweeping cinematography that's achingly beautiful to gaze at, one of the best scenes involve the brutal, cold blooded mass murder where militants spray countless of rounds into a packed bus, culminating in that shot of a burning bus shrouded in thick black smoke against an endless sandy environment, with Nawal finally snapping into making a decision to take matters into her own hands from then on. Between the two stories, perhaps it is Nawal's painful journey that makes this compelling viewing, from having her lover forcefully and terminally separated from her by family during her teens, then her volunteering and sacrifice leading to imprisonment and ill treatment within as punishment. What she did as part of reconciliation is in part a masterstroke in inflicting inexplicable pain in return to her perpetrator, is what made this film a winner, although it will stun you into silence well after the end credits roll from the devastation the narrative left in its wake.

The other half of the narrative deals with Jeanne and Simon's journey to dig through unwritten laws, and reluctance of tightly knit communities that prefer to keep the status quo and not dwell and reopen wounds inflicted from their collective shameful past, some in denial, while others happy to have seen a more favourable outcome from Nawal's hardships. It is this piecing together of the mystery like an investigative drama that makes Incendies unique, and what more, Radiohead also features in the soundtrack – strange but true, and very powerful if you ask me.

Comparing the ratings between this film at M18 and Womb at R21 reveals what the censors allow and not allow when dealing with more mature themes, likely centered around the intention of its more controversial scenes. It's anyone's guess why was was given the highest rating possible, and the other one rung lower, given that both actually didn't have anything explicit, except perhaps one was used as an unintentional weapon of torture and destruction in the psychological sense, while the other was a love story gotten out of control! Still, for its strong story and excellent production values, Incendies becomes that must watch film in 2011, especially during this season of noisy summer action blockbusters that absolutely don't resonate as much as this film. Highly recommended!
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Recommended viewing
CineCritic25178 February 2011
During the reading of the will of their mother's, a twin brother and sister learn of some unusual last wishes. Amongst other requests, two envelopes need to be delivered to respectively the father of the two and a brother whom are both unknown. The quest leads the twins through the Middle East where they slowly learn of the horrific tales which is the life history of their late mother.

The movie tells a very graphic but endearing story, perfectly shot and acted allowing the viewer to get fully immersed into the journey and findings of the twins. Through flashbacks we learn about the hardship of the mother and, eventually, the fate of the father and brother. As a treat, there is a great twist at the end which is really the icing on the cake.

Highly recommended.

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Wonderful and devastating
lennyfromamsterdam7 September 2010
I had the pleasure of attending a screening of Incendies at the Telluride film festival and was absolutely shattered by it. This meticulously crafted film was my favorite of the festival.

Stuff happens and you'll be like NO WAY and then the film goes even further and you'll be like WHOA OKAY WHAT and then even further and you'll be like OH MY GOD and then even further still and you'll be like HOW CAN THIS BE HAPPENING OH MY GOD PLEASE and then it'll just keep going even further and further and further and by the end of the film you'll just be a steamy, shattered mess like I was.

Characters and events throughout are depicted with the subtlety and prowess of a master filmmaker. I don't want to spoil anything, but there were numerous moments in the screening that I attended when the audience was vocally reacting to moments on screen that were extremely visceral and affecting.

Beautiful, powerful film.
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Superb Film
lstonebridge20 February 2011
This is a superb film. Best film of the year in my estimation bar none. This exceptional Canadan film should easily win best Foreign film at the Oscars.

Directing, photography, cinematography, casting, acting all outstanding. The film also has something to say on the nature of hate and violence.

Unfortunately this wonderful film will neither be seen nor appreciated by a wide audience.

Denis Villeneuve has created a fabulous film. He has done an immense job taking this from novel to the screen.
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Probably the best drama of the last few years!
kluseba12 October 2010
I decided to watch this movie because I have read many excellent critics and because this book is used in Quebec's "cegeps", some kind of a post-high-school, and my girlfriend talked about it with me. Indeed, I am very happy to have seen this intense movie. It is really a great and close to perfection. Even though I have even seen one or two better films this year, this movie is at least the best drama I have seen in the last five years.

This movie is absolutely convincing. It has very intense images and words and has a very slow paced and sad atmosphere. The movie begins very calm but the tension raises very fast and you really feel more and more with the tragic characters. This movie makes you cry, it makes you angry, it shocks you. Once again, it is a Quebecker movie that is cut into pieces and may mix you up a little bit in the beginning. You see scenes from the present where Jeanne and Simon are first parallely looking for the truth and trying to fulfil her last will, you see scenes from the dramatic past of her mother at different stages of her life and you also see scenes from the past of her family. The movie shows not only a couple of interesting and diversified characters (played by mostly unknown and indeed extremely talented actors), but also magnificent and intense landscapes, shocking crime and war scenes and insights of a foreign culture and the clash of the generations and ideologies in the past and the present. The movie is much diversified and very intellectual.

Many people were surprised by several twists and a very intense and dramatic ending. It is true that the development the movie takes is really shocking but I have seen a few things coming and wasn't that surprised in the end, but that almost does no harm to the atmosphere and tension of the movie. The movie tells in a very philosophical way about the irony of fate, peace and war, love and hate, vengeance and forgiveness, saints and sinners. It is uneasy to watch the movie and you still think about what you have heard and seen for quite a while after the movie.

Almost everything is perfect in this movie. There are two minor reasons why I don't give the best note. First of all, I was somehow able to predict some of the punches at a certain point in the movie and I have already seen more intense and shocking dramas that very even more uneasy and heavier to watch than this one, for example "The pianist". Second, some scenes in the beginning of the movie are not done very well by the camera man. In the scene where Jeanne is in her mathematic class and when she looks for some accessories in her room, the camera is disturbingly shaking and moving all the time but not to create an effect of uneasiness, because there are no similar scenes later in the movie during way heavier scenes. Those two scenes (that would not have been complicated to produce or film again) are just not well done and the director should have seen and corrected that before sending the final product to the festivals and cinemas. In a perfect and intense masterpiece, this little detail is really something that could harm the reputation and professionalism of the whole brilliant work. The next time, they should be more concentrated on the movie's perfection and keep their eyes open or invest the money in a good camera director instead of some war scenes.

But all in all, I think that we can really talk about an extremely good movie here! It is surely worth watching it and I agree with those ones who would like to see this movie represent Canada at the Oscars.
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A stunning and powerful thriller
eddie_baggins8 May 2018
Want to see where one of the modern era's hottest directing streaks started? If you do, then Incendies in the film for you.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve, who went from this French/Canadian co-production to move onto Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival and last year's brilliant sequel Blade Runner 2049, Incendies is the Oscar nominated film that put Villeneuve on the path he finds himself on now and remains a film of substantial power these years on from initial release.

Adapted from Wajdi Mouawad's play of the same name, Incendies is a multi-layered narrative that spans both numerous countries and numerous characters over various timelines but Villeneuve controls his film perfectly as the mystery that lays at the heart of this tale about family, war, life and death never gets muddled as we're drawn further and further into a film that wraps us up in its web and refuses to let us go.

There's not the abundance of filmmaking and visual flair that Villeneuve has started to become known for over his more recent Hollywood productions but Incendies power comes almost exclusively from Villeneuve's deft hand with his performers, his handling of a script that other filmmakers would struggle to bring to life and his ability to slowly ebb out more information as we go, that by the time we come to realise just what lays in store for the films characters, the power of Incendies becomes even more apparent.

Saying to much about this story would be a disservice to a film that takes many various turns and pivots. Essentially at its core, a story of both twins Jeanne and Simon Marwan trying to uncover the secret of their father they've never met and find a brother they never knew they had after their Middle Eastern born mother Nawal passes away, Incendies becomes so much more than a typical family drama as it showcases time in the conflict of the Israeli and Palestinian Holy Wars, as well as the twins journey back to their country of nationality.

The film in many ways showcases a different side to Villeneuve and proves the director is just as at home handling a $150 million plus Sci-Fi for a major Hollywood studio as he is behind the camera of a small intimate drama that is driven purely by its narrative and characters. Proof the filmmaker is a man of many talents and a director to be cherished by those that love cinema.

Final Say -

For any fans of Villeneuve's work, world cinema or powerful character driven dramas, then Incendies should be a film you seek out as soon as possible. Losing none of its power since its initial release, this sometimes hard to watch but always enthralling film is standout filmmaking and the official blasting off point for one of the modern era's great filmmakers.

5 swimming pools out of 5
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One plus One is Equal to One
claudio_carvalho26 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
In Canada, the sixty year-old immigrant secretary Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal) passes away and the notary Jean Lebel (Rémy Girard), who had been her employer and friend for seventeen years, reads her will to her twin son and daughter Simon (Maxim Gaudette) and Jeanne Marwan (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin), who is a mathematician.

Nawal requests to be buried naked with her face down and her tomb without a gravestone; further, she leaves three sealed envelopes addressed to the twins' father that they believed had deceased in the Middle East; to their unknown brother; and the last one to themselves to be opened only after the delivery of the other two. Then, they may put a gravestone on her tomb. Simon is reluctant to respect his mother last wishes, but Jeanne decides to find her biological father and brother.

She travels to the Middle East to track down the past life of her mother and she discovers who she was before moving to Canada. She feels disturbed with the revelations and asks Simon to come to the Middle East to assist her in her journey. Simon discovers who his father and his brother are and concludes that one plus one may be equal to one.

"Incendies" is an intriguing film about the journey of two twin siblings that travel to the Middle East to fulfill the last wish of their mother and end discovering the disturbing history of their family.

The screenplay is very well written and discloses in parallel to the journey of Jeanne first and Simon later, the brave history of their mother in an unnamed country in the Middle East. The plot point in the conclusion is totally unexpected and heartbreaking. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Incêndios" ("Fires")
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Contrived motivations and director's political bias undermine Lebanese Civil War victim's compelling tale of survival
Turfseer20 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Some viewers may regard the climax of 'Incendies' as the most effective part of the film, but I must wholeheartedly disagree . If one really wants to single out the most effective and compelling scene, that would be the massacre on the bus and subsequent shooting of the young child. It works because Director Denis Villenueve compounds the horror exponentially: the bus is stopped by terrorists, the passengers react confused and frightened, the bus driver is murdered, the terrorists strafe the bus with machine gun fire killing most of the passengers, Nawal (the protagonist) and a young mother and her young daughter move to the back as the terrorists pour gasoline on top of the roof of the bus, Nawal escapes and takes the young girl with her only to see the terrorists set the bus on fire killing the mother and finally the child running back to the bus to be with her mother, only to be shot in the back by the terrorists as Nawal watches in horror.

With such an unforgettable iconic scene, as listed above (along with a few others, such as the 'honor killing' at the beginning of the film), why must 'Incendies' ultimately be labeled as contrived and dishonest? For starters, Villenueve only vaguely alludes to the film's main setting. We know that Nawal's journey occurs in Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War but the country, along with the right wing Arab Christian party, the "Phalangists", are never mentioned by name. When Nawal's family members murder her lover, they refer to him as a "refugee" not as a "Palestinian". Despite stripping the events depicted in the film of their political context, Villenueve clearly cannot hide his bias. Nawal decides to become an assassin for the Muslims after her Muslim lover is murdered by her own Christian family and she's a witness to the bus massacre by Arab Christian terrorists. Only a "kindly" Muslim warlord ("Chamseddine") happens to tell Narwan's son, Simon, the truth during the search for the "son" and the "father". And that truth is that the fighting is tit for tat—one reprisal begets another. Nonetheless, Villenueve still implies that it's the Muslim side who are clearly the wronged party here. By no means am I trying to defend the brutality of the right-wing nationalists during the Lebanese Civil War, but there were two sides to the story and certainly that's lost in Villenueve's narrative.

As to why the film should be considered contrived, it's not so much the wacko ending which is designed to point out the horrors of war (and hence its pointlessness) but the whole idea that the mother would send her children on a wild goose chase, making them face the truth about HER situation, instead of telling them what happened on her deathbed (she was able to blurt out the main points to family friend, the Notary Lebel) or allowing Lebel to explain it to the kids without having them experience the full impact of the horror by traveling to Lebanon, dredging up old wounds amongst people who they didn't know (and didn't even speak their language). I question whether any mother would have put her children in such a position—why was she so insistent on having them learn the truth about their parentage? After all, the revelation that her son was actually her other children's father, basically drove her insane and led to her death. This from a woman who always claimed she would do anything for her children. And here they would end up in a foreign country, asking sensitive questions which could place their lives in jeopardy.

While a series of chilling events, clearly molded Narwan's character, there's little character development when it comes to the son. He has that most disagreeable chip on his shoulder (until he finally bonds with his sister in the swimming pool), but for most of the film, he is an unwelcome, one-note presence. And what's with that lack of hesitation with taking a ride blind-folded with the Warlord's bodyguards? The guide's assurance that "everything is okay" is enough for him to take a ride with a duo of potential killers. How does he know that his guide can be so sure about the Warlord?

And what about Abou Tarek (the 'son' and the 'father')? The Warlord trains him to be a crackerjack sniper but becomes disaffected by war and switches sides, ending up in the Christian Arab prison, as Narwan's torturer. Even though we hear the explanation from Chamseddine, it seems a little too convenient that Tarek so easily switches from the Muslim to the Christian Arab side with so little explanation. Of course without him doing so, there's no 'twist ending', designed to shock.

I understood that the two letters which Narwan has her children deliver to Tarek reflects Narwan's ambivalence about how she feels toward him. But again, why involve the twins? How is Narwan so sure that her revelation to him that he's her son, will impact his conscience? It's already been established that he's a psychopath so I would hardly think that he would care who his mother is. For all we know, Tarek may have decided to go after the half-siblings, as they could reveal his dark secret publicly and cause him a good deal of trouble.

'Incendies' manages to keep one's interest despite the main character's motivations that don't add up and the director's clear political bias. It's worth seeing but hardly deserves the accolades that have been heaped upon it since its heralded release.
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Contrived and Pointless
Multipleh27 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Incendies starts with twins a brother and a sister receiving a letter from their late mother. The letter sends them on a mission to find the truth about their backgrounds. The main problem with this film is the purpose of the letter. Why does the mother send them on this mission? The truth revealed is cruel and shocking? The mother has died after finding out the truth, now she wants her children to go on a mission to find the truth rather than reveal to them the truth through the letter. One could argue that the mother wanted to reveal the truth and reveal the horror and the pointlessness of the Middle East conflict. But the journey is contrived and feels as though the screenwriter just wanted to use the incest as shock value.
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Useless "lone plot twist" movie
Sxilderik4 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
It started well, though. Mysterious last will and testament with missions to accomplish... Adorable french Canadian accent (I'm french, I love what our cousins have done with our common language ). A Quebec thriller, yeah !

Rapidly, first eyebrow raisers... What Arab place are they talking about like everyone should know about it ? Never heard of it...

Then you realize the Arab country they are going to is just an archetypal Arab country, non existent. A caricature of many seen-on-TV Arab countries... OK, why not, I suppose Americans (as people living on the American continent) have a lesser history burn with Arab countries than Frenchs, for example, do, and have no problem building a make-believe Arab country just for the sake of... what? At this point, I supposed the filmmakers wanted to make some point about Arab or religious wars... or terrorism... ? Since they are Canadians, not Unitedstatesians, I was hoping maybe for a not so obvious / good vs bad kind of story... But I was really wondering what was the purpose of all that.

The story goes on, civil war, religious war, slaughter, all fake, all archetypal, OK, but to what end? What's the point?

And then, you finally get the answer, at the end of the movie, with one unforeseen big plot twist.

And then you realize the Arab story is absolutely irrelevant. The same plot could have been set in any archetypal place with a credible history of violence and torture... South America? Former Yugoslavia? Caucase? Heck, actually, since the prison/torture part is altogether sufficient to hold the whole movie, the very same movie could have been set just about Guatanamo (and viewers would then believe for one hour they were watching a anti-US movie, only to realize at the end the total irrelevance of all that)

At the end of the movie, you get that astonishing plot twist, which makes you realize the vast vacuity and uselessness of all the side stories you have been watching for the past hour. But, OK, what next ? What to do with that extraordinary situation ?

Well, nothing. Movie ends here. Tadaaaa.

And loopholes appear : there's obviously a wrong choice of actors : one of them should really look like twenty years older that what he looks like. The lawyer, since he wrote all three letters, should have understood much earlier the whole thing: it never shows that he knows more than the others participants to the quest. Weird.

Good acting. I loved the actresses. The boy is deliberately annoying, and he does annoy me, so I guess he is a success too.

On the whole, a waste of time, the feeling of having been cheated, using a deceitful setup for a story that could hold in three lines.

I do suggest, instead of watching this movie, reading the Robert Heinlein 1953 short story "All you zombies". On the same kind of twisted plot, that gem makes this movie looks... petty.
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Too far-fetched
francoatgrex19 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This movie tries to emulate a Greek tragedy, which is something expected from a movie based on an Arabic story (for example, Egyptian movies are almost all so dramatic and tragic), but it's a flop. Many will consider it as kind of 'artistic' but it's not really, it's just very poor material. First of all the story is very contrived and the events highly unlikely to happen (probability almost nil). Second, the setting is a deformed and inaccurate account of the Lebanese civil war (they changed names and historic events but the backbone is evidently based on that war and that country). As I've seen in some other reviews, with such a setting so removed from reality, the movie lost its impact, it became a farce. A tragedy or a drama is touching especially because it has elements of reality, and when that reality is removed, the movie resembles a ridiculous science-function-like flick that tries hard to be deep but fails. The acting was generally OK, Mélissa Désormeaux (Jeanne) did a good job, however the actress who played Nawal (the main character) was a disaster; they could have found a better actress, at least someone who could speak proper Arabic.
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So outrageous it becomes blatantly funny!
Ufo47629 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I never thought it possible that a film with such heavy subject would have me laughing at the end! But thats exactly what happened. After depicting all the clichés that there are about the wars at the middle East (for most of the time, so efficiently and subtly that the movie went quiet well up to a point), and after having us convinced we are actually seeing a really good movie, it drops a twist so "over the top " that instead of delving us in shock, it just leave us there standing like in WTF happened now?


So, the mother had an illegitimate child that was taken away from her (after the killing of her boyfriend by her family) ,who was then captured and trained from an opposite group, who was then later captured and imprisoned from the original group, and then in the blink of an eye changes his loyalties, becomes a tormentor, ends up raping his own mother, and the later, after encountering her son/rapist completely accidentally in the other edge of the world, collapses and dies but arranges to sent her offsprings to find their brother/dad for closure! (which she still loves of course!) Sorry, this is so extreme that it no longer seems horrible or serve us to transmit the dismals of war, it just becomes plainly laughable. If you ever saw a movie that tries so hard to make a point that it TOTALLY misses it, then that movie was it!

In the background of course, there are masterfully presented descriptions of the horrors of war, especially civil war, which every nation who has been through this process knows how worst is from "normal" wars, but again everything is given with such extremity, crazy coincidences and the like that you can only accept it if you take them for their symbolic meaning. Unfortunately, the end is so extremely absurd that simply ruins the strength of the movie. Everyone knows what happens in wars. Sorry, such crazy development doesn't happen even in them.

The saddest part is how many people embraced that movie, showing beyond a doubt how accurate the story about the naked king (H.C. Andersen) still stands today, both among the critics and the common people. But then again, there is no surprise there!

In conclusion if you want to see a "punch in the gut" about such subjects, see "Whistleblower" (or Hotel Rwanda and the like), who truly deliver. This one is betrayed by the fact that it simply tries too much, and hence looses the realism that would give the movie its strength. Oh well, next time...
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A lovely looking and acted film, in desperate need of a script
Meven_Stoffat29 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Forgive me for being the on person who stood out among the crowd here, but by God I really can't see how this has an 8.2 rating here on IMDb. Now I can see that this would be loved to death by those who only watch "film" and not movies, but come on, folks.

I do like Denis Villanueve... Or at least I did. I saw his movie Polytechnique and I loved it. It was brutal, uncompromising yet very heartfelt and uplifting. I loved the black and white cinematography, as well as the feeling of being caught in the middle of the shooting. His filmmaking is just lovely in that film. So with hi expectations already in place, I was hoping this would do the good deed.

Alright, from a filmmaking standpoint, as in cinematography and all that jazz, the movie is amazing. If I could give the movie a 10 for that alone, I so would. With all the gorgeous scenery and what not, this film really is pleasing to the eye. And the soundtrack is fantastic too, with "You and whose Army" by Radiohead over the opening scene- I LOVED that! And the acting is really brilliant, Maxim Gaudette and the female lead both did very great together.

But how shallow was this film.

The biggest problem is its characterization. Characters go a long way in a film for me, and believe me I wanted to feel for the mother and her children. I'll admit they did quite well with the mother, and the scenes with the flashbacks to her past were very intriguing. But them we went to present day with the kids, and the daughter in her mother's homeland, and suddenly the film goes all to naught because the children are SO DAMNED UNINTERESTING. In fact I don't remember a thing about the son because he was in the movie for like, literally, 5 minutes.

Another problem is the script... If there even is one.. The movie feels like Villanueve dropped the script one day, then picked it up and instead of putting the pages in the right order, went "Ah, never mind, shoot it like this!" The dialogue is so wooden and hokey, that at times I fell on the ground laughing at the implausibility. In fact scene. After scene, I was scratching my head because the scenes have no meaning. And don't get me started on the twist with the third child, when that came, I asked myself "was this some bad joke the cast and crew had going on throughout the shoot?"

I wish I could jump on the bandwagon like a lot of us here have, but the movie is so dire, tired and dull. And furthermore it's 30 minutes too long too. This is a 90 minute or even a 100 minute movie stretched to 2 hours and 10 minutes. It did not need to be that long.


Pros: A very beautifully shot movie, with great acting and soundtrack.

Cons: The film is otherwise very shallow, with an almost zero level script, bad pacing, and dull and shallow characters.
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cultfilmfan10 February 2011
Incendies is based on the play by Wajdi Mouawad. The film is a Canadian film in French and Arabic with English subtitles. Going into the theatre to see Incendies, I really knew nothing about it. I had not read any of the reviews that came out, but I had heard from the television news shows that it was supposed to be very good and now with a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, I assumed that it was going to be a really good film. I decided not to read anything about the plot before I saw the film because these days I find that so many critics gave away too much crucial information of the films in their reviews that when you finally do see the film it does not have the same affect on you. So having known nothing about Incendies and then watching the story unfold before my eyes was quite an experience and I would recommend you do the same if you are at all inclined to go see it. Other than the film's director Denis Villeneuve, I was not familiar with anybody else who appeared in the film, or worked on the sides, but I must say that they all did a fantastic job. This is the type of film that when you are watching it, you are not quite sure what will happen, or how the climax, or the ending will come, but when it does, it makes sense to you and leaves you with a multitude of feelings. At times Incendies was not always the most easy film to watch, not because it was overly violent, or graphic because I thought everything was handled in a very tastefully done way, but it still sucks so much emotion out of us and we get to care so much for the characters and what they are going through as we watch it before our eyes, that we can not help but feel sad, enraged, or even physically ill watching it at times. I should clarify that the film does deal with some of the goings on with the Middle East and the wars, tension and prejudices that came out of some of those wars and moments of terror that people at that time and still are going through. I also liked how when dealing with such a tricky and controversial subject matter such as this that as I mentioned it was all very tastefully done and none of it felt like you were watching a Hollywood movie. I think if this had been a big budget, big name star movie extravaganza, then it probably would not have worked. The reason it works so well as it is, is because the fact that it is so character driven and deals with events that have gone on in the past and in some similar and different ways are still going on today. The film felt personal to me. It felt like the people involved with the film had something to say and instead of sugar coating everything and making it an easily watchable film with a feel good portion of it, it instead goes for all your emotions and in a sense almost takes you on the journey and the personal trials and tribulations that the characters in the movie have gone on and understandably we can almost feel their pain, exhaustion and hurt because the performances have this sense of believability and authenticity to them, that everything we see them go through feels like the real thing and the way they handle each situation is believable and not far fetched at all. The characters in the film give us something to believe in because they are searching for the truth and will go to many lengths to find it, even if at times it is difficult, or even dangerous and the amount of honour and pride they carry with them to set out someone's wishes is truly remarkable. This is an incredibly powerful film that as I mentioned, does put you through an array of different emotions, but I did not mind that because I felt I could connect with the characters more because of this. The look and feel of the film is not big budget or fake looking, which makes all the interior and exterior shots look real and further enhancing the emotions, or moods we are supposed to feel in each scene. The acting by everyone involved is all terrific here as well and this is just a really well put together film with a great cast and director and wonderful material to work and mold into this brave, haunting and yet life changing experience. I have not seen any of the other Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominees, but having just seen Incendies now, I would say that it has a good chance of winning because of how masterful and great it is. Do not just take my word for it, go and see it when it opens in a theatre near you. This is certainly one of the best films of 2010.
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The First Sign Of Villeneuve's Geniusness
Gresh85413 February 2019
I'm in a chasmic lost for words. Incendies was...goodness gracious. Villenueve. Villenueve, never leave us. Please. Never, ever leave us. You are a god.

Abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz, okay, I think I'm sturdy now. Incendies is a rare film that manages to be an invigorating political thriller about violence, war, religion, and hostitily, while simultaneously, be a malevolent, nail-biting mystery-noir thriller. There are so many sequences in this bruting, cloak-and-dagger mischief-maker that will stick out to you like an imperishable parasite. It is crushing.

The only reason why Incendies doesn't earn a 5/5 from me-for now-is because the pacing at first glance wasn't all too keen at times, there's admittedly a plateful of coincidences that materialize, and the character, Simon, was a bit of a nuisance virtually every time he emerged on screen. I'm sure though that after a rewatch in the near future, I'll end up fine-tuning notably more to this deviously harrowing exploit. Nonetheless, j'ai adoré. (Verdict: A-)
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Beautifully made tragedy but schematic, contrived.
maddox-richard30 July 2012
Just watched it, hence the ramble... Such a beautifully-made film with terrific performances. I can see how many people find it an extremely powerful tragedy but I wonder if it tackles too much for its length and medium. There's only so much you can do and say in a 2 hour conventional-ish movie without overtly manipulating the audience.

Personally I have a problem with many fictional films of this type though I understand my reaction is not the common one. To me, these films take extremely shocking or despicable events which 'could be real' or 'could have happened' and 'do sometimes happen'. They film these events realistically but they ask the audience to dive in and get into the story as you would a piece of riveting fictional drama, The Godfather etc. At the same time they insist the film has elements of reality or quasi-documentary - to have 'this is almost truthful' or 'this is currently happening' qualities. Yet the screenplay, the unfolding drama, is only as real as a Greek tragedy, say - it is carefully scripted and story-boarded to shock and amuse and provoke. It's a play. A drama. A movie. It's still only another The Godfather or The Matrix. It's not a documentary or a record of an event or events which happened. It's like having your cake and eating it - taking an irony-filled, message-laden 'impactful' stage play and putting it in the package of a realistic contemporary action-drama thriller mystery tragedy.

I think if another director had played more on the fictional 'Greek tragedy', 'heightened ironic drama written for the stage' aspects I would have loved it. (Eg if the audience understood they were being manipulated for the sake of great drama.) Conversely I think if this director had made a similar movie based on a true story without the central shocking irony I would have loved it. He's a great director.

Not meaning to 'compare' different films and different intentions, and perhaps conflicting some of what I have said so far: I liked the way Roman Polanski's 'Death and the Maiden' keeps the stage play aspects of the original. I didn't enjoy 'The Kite Runner's mixing of fact and fiction, and then its action rescue ending. I'm a fan of some films which take real events and work them into drama and then finish by revealing the actual protagonist in real life - Europa Europa is an example. I'm a fan of City Of God only because it is so obviously a complete fiction, a 'Hollywood' style shoot-em-up, rather than a 'state of address'. I'm a huge fan of Sergei Bodrov's 'Prisoner Of the Mountains' as a film depicting some themes of war and religious conflict in a fairly realistic way but somehow with a nice balance between 'this is just a filmed play' and 'this is something happening right now which carries some universal truths'.

I don't comment that often on IMDb but I do think that for films of an extreme nature (such as Incendies' central twist) it is probably worth recording people's different reactions.

Finally, I do think the director is one of the best of recent times and congratulate him on the film despite it not being to my taste.
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A solid premise with a dreadful structure.
Rockwell_Cronenberg24 December 2011
Incendies was a mixed bag, but I felt like it's negative aspects really bore down on it's positive ones. On the solid side of things, Denis Villeneuve has a real knack for storytelling and an eye for imagery that is truly gorgeous. Some of the shots here dug deep into my brain, be them haunting or beautiful, they managed to elicit a strong reaction from me.

The premise of the story is quite an intriguing one -- upon their mother's death, two twins discovery their father is alive and they have a brother they never knew and then set upon a quest to reveal the truth, and in casting the leads I don't think they could have found more skilled actresses than Lubna Azabal and Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin for the job. These women are a rarity in modern cinema; strong and fierce, fully stood in their beliefs and decisions. It's powerful to see such strong women and the actresses portray them with just that level of gusto and perseverance that is required.

Where it falls apart though is it's structure. Incendies is another of the many dozen films this year that employ a split-time narrative structure and it's yet another example of how to do it improperly. The sections (detailing the twins journey for the truth against the mother's past and her own journey) never feel like they mesh well and it ends up feeling like two completely separate films. At first it wasn't so bad, but as the film progressed the space between these two grew further and further apart.

The last act is where it really derails, as in the present day there are huge discoveries made that we already knew so they lack the sense of emotional catharsis that the characters receive and in the past we see events that the characters already know about so it just becomes a retelling of things we are already aware of. The final act is this bizarrely awkward display of throwing everything at the audience in quick succession, so out of place from a film that had been slowly building up until that point. It felt as though they didn't want it to end up being three hours long so they threw together half a film's worth of information into half an hour. It ends up feeling very awkward and disjointed and completely lost me by the time the credits rolled.
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Gutwrenching, intense, beautiful, searing (yes, scorching)...
secondtake14 January 2014
Incendies (2010)

Scorched is a good translation of the French title. That's how you'll feel by the end.

This Canadian movie, based on a play by a Lebanese writer, is set mostly in Jordan and is a tale of a twin brother and sister (son and daughter) looking for their roots after the death of their mother. It's quite amazing.

Don't think this is some feel-good flick. What it shows first of all, better than almost any movie I've seen, is the reality of life in wartime in the Mideast (pick your country). The ruthless, bloody, sectarian violence is made intimate in the worst way, or best way cinematically—you hate it, and feel it. This is the huge strength of the movie, giving light to the dilemmas of ordinary people trying to survive, literally, the mayhem.

Equally important is how the daughter's view of her mother changes as she learns more and more about her. The daughter is forced to do this because of a request in her mother's will, but she takes it on, in a more recent Jordan, with utter determination.

The movie is divided into two time periods. The first belongs to the mother in an ongoing series of harrowing flashbacks. The second belongs to the daughter, and eventually the son, as they look for surviving members of the mother's past. The steely force of will of the daughter turns out to be a mere shadow of the strength of her mother, and you droop in admiration and sympathy for all of them.

The huge, dramatic hook of the movie, which you only learn as the characters learn it at the very end of the movie, isn't something I can talk about here. But for outrageousness it puts Shakespeare to shame—and it was for me also a distraction. Your jaw drops and you think, oh how awful (and more)! But a part of my brain was also saying, this is too much, it isn't contributing to the truth and emotional depth of these characters.

It might even undermine them slightly, reminding us this is a stage play, an artifice.

But that's a nagging quibble. This is really a powerful movie, beautifully rendered, and acted with unusual intensity. It's rough (realistically violent) in a few spots, but it's worth it. Wow.
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Very Good Until Becoming Too Contrived
pc958 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
"Incendies" is one of these movies that really disappoints - The ones that for a good portion of the movie are highly enthralling, but then comes crashing down. (Major Spoiler) I had an inkling that the filmmakers might pull what they ended up trying to smear on the viewer, and it was so, so disappointing. Suffice it to say to twist the plot around and pretzel it like they did, the filmmakers stooped to utter contrivance. They blew up logic and believability for the sake of sensationalism. How probable could all of this actually take place in such a sequence (?), quite improbable. Additionally I had a hard time understanding what exactly transformed the mother into a killer(?) The ending became marginal and a continuation of the contrivance. Too bad - it had a great story going up until the last quarter of it's run-time.
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Better than Greek Tragedy!
drumgod1014 July 2013
Because it's so good, after watching Canadien/French Film Incendies for the second time, I thought that it must be based on a novel of play. I needed to find out. I now know that it is based on a play by Wajdi Mouawad. Mouawad is a Canadien writer, and to my delight, Incendies is part of a series of four plays. This means I have three more Incendies-like plays still to read. I won't go through a run-down of the plot, talk in abstractions about arch, characters symbiosis or lack-there-of…. there are tons of proper film reviews out there already dealing with these topics. I thought I'd just talk about two things, the two things that I thought make this an outstanding film: Photography, and the remarkable unfolding of a dramatic story; better film critics than me, which is to say any real film critic, have said that this film pulls off tragedy better than the Greeks.

The photography, the photography, the photography… was just as good the second time as it was the first time I saw it. The film opens in a village that could be mistaken for Greece of Israel. At thought maybe this was set and shot in Palestine, but I think most of the film as actually shot in Jordan. Theses shots are actually set to portray a fictional Lebanon, both past and modern day. The history intertwined with the movie seems to be loosely fictional; I can't find any information on any of the places that appear in film. My Lebanese civil war history is a little rusty. Anyone else?

There are two shots in particular that stand out. Both are shot at a distance to reveal the vastness of the landscape, unmistakably Mediterranean. Rocky, and the trees, not that I'm a tree expert, but they must be olive or fig trees, they are almost overused as prototypical symbols of the Med, but they work great. The first shot I like is actually two shots, meaning one type of shot that is used twice, almost identically. It's of a bus traveling on a skinny, mountainside road. At first, the camera is in close then pans way out to show the whole panoramic view, massive landscape, and tiny bus, a common technique in World films that are shot in exotic landscapes. The other shot is similar. It is later in the film. One of the characters is driving to a modern day Deressa Refugee camp and there is a shot taken from the sky of the winding roads leading up the side of a mountain. This shot is amazing, and whatever effects of filters the photographer added to make it fit the film's tone so well, I can't think of a better word to use to describe them, and the shot as 'cinematic.' I know that's a terrible term to use when describing Cinema, I really do, but a shot like this is so expressive and well-placed in the film, there is nothing going in the film here excepts visuals, the shot on it's own stands out as an artistic, filmmaking achievement.

The storyline, the storyline, the storyline…unfolds with the precision of a textbook tragedy. It sets up the conflict right off the top--- find missing brother and father. As the drama unfolds the story becomes more and more complex, adding twists and turns to the plot that we never even thought possible. In the end we are left with remains that challenge Oedipus the King in magnitude. (but without the fall from grace) The film still manage to exit the scene with a sparkle of hope. Forgiveness lets the audience breath a little easier as the film closes, a catharsis, but even then the story, the film, will haunt your subconscious for a good while after. More reviews at
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