November 28, 2013
Inch’Allah – Canada, 2012
A young boy walks behind a young girl with long black hair and a fashionable black luxury backpack. The girl approaches a café, where a polite man welcomes her and takes her order. The boy’s attention soon turns to a stack of caged bird being sold by a local vendor, and he watches them with the same wide-eyed wonder as an equally-young boy later in the film admires a flock of sheep. Suddenly, the joy and wonder of the moment are shattered, replaced by the sounds of mournful wails, fearful cries, and frantic sirens. The scene, while predictable, is important, for it presents viewers with a brief glance at the kinds of events that have fueled the tension, distrust, and, in some cases, utter indifference that we see exhibited throughout the rest of Anais Barbeau-Lavalette‘s 2012 film, Inch’Allah.
One of the problems with Inch’Allah is its adherence to the notion that viewers need an outsider to help them understand the issues involved in certain conflicts. According to this line of thinking, they need a western doctor in order to understand just how terrible Idi Amin was or Caucasian characters to understand the evils of Jim Crow laws or the Klu Klux Klan. This technique can be effective for lesser-known conflicts, ones that do not get much attention on the nightly news; however, for those that are much more well-known, it can seem like pandering to or underestimating an audience, and unfortunately, that is slightly the case with Inch’Allah. The film presents the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as seen through the eyes of Chloe (Evelyne Brochu), a Canadian obstetrician who lives in Israel, but works at a makeshift clinic for pregnant Palestinians in the West Bank.
Through her eyes, viewers see the chaos and destitution that exists on the Palestinian side of the Israeli-erected wall that separates Israel from the West Bank. One of the film’s most-used images is of a graffiti-covered section of the wall that is surrounded by piles of garbage, which refugees scrounge through daily in an effort to find basic necessities. It is not hard to imagine the area sprawling with businesses and homes were it not for the wall. We also see scenes of momentary joy – the fun children have making jokes and teasing each other, smiles that appear on people’s faces when they sit down to eat together as a family, put on make up, or simple light up a cigarette. We also see and hear of moments of sheer humiliation for Palestinian men at the hands some understandably stressed and overly-cautious Israeli soldiers on checkpoint duty. In addition, there is of an undercurrent of danger running throughout the film, which often comes out at night or in isolated areas. Plans are afoot, the seeds of violence are being sown, and people are being recruited for horrifying and deadly acts of what they consider retaliation for wrongs done them.
Witnessing such horrors would undoubtedly affect someone’s psyche, and I imagine that some people will find Chloe’s journey starting and fascinating. However, as I watched the film, I couldn’t help but be increasingly drawn to the character of Rand (Sabrina Ouazani) and intrigued by her circumstances. This is a character torn between feelings of hope and bouts of despair. Pregnant, she holds out a glimmer of hope that the future will be better for her child, yet with her husband awaiting a jail sentence and her dismal economic prospects, it is hard for her to keep those hopes going. I suspect that Inch’Allah would have been a more moving film had it been scripted around her, similar to the way Paradise Now centers around two Palestinian men and not an outsider.
The film includes a particularly moving scene in which Chloe takes Rand’s family to their former family home on the Israeli side of the wall. The home is now reduced to rubble, and the area has been essentially abandoned. Still, the family sits in the area that used to be their kitchen and reminisces about what were then simpler times, and for a moment, they are happy. It is then that one of them voices his resentment about having had to get permission to visit what was once theirs. The scene made me question reports that few Palestinians actually seek what has come to be called “the Right of Return.” There are also several touching scenes involving a young boy named Safi (Hammoudeh Alkarmi) who wears a superhero costume and dreams of flying over the wall he walks along every day. On the other hand, there are too many speeches that approach sermons, most of which end with a variation of the sentiment, “This is not your war, Chloe,” and the film has an ending that seems unnecessarily stereotypical for a film of this kind and that is unfortunately telegraphed too far in advance.
That said, Inch’Allah works, albeit not nearly as well as it probably could. It is well acted, and it includes a few surprising turns. I doubt well-informed viewers will learn a great deal new from the film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole, but they will likely be moved by the film’s diverse characters and the film’s documentary-style imagery. It is very easy to believe what we see in the film, and it is possible to come away from it with a better understanding of the individuals directly affected by the conflict. However, it does make you wonder just how well the film could have worked had the conflict been viewed through a different set of eyes. (on DVD in Region 3; on DVD in Region 1 on December 3)
*Inch’Allah is in French, English, Arabic, and Hebrew.