We follow a woman wearing a backpack through a crowded street. Kids play around her, diners laugh and eat at a cafe, and a caged pigeon stares blankly at a little boy’s smiling face. And then the world explodes.
Chloé (Evelyne Brochu) is a Canadian doctor straddling the Israeli/Palestinian border both in her daily activities and in her sympathies. She lives in Israel but works in a clinic on the other side of the concrete wall in the Palestinian city of Ramallah. In addition to the day job she’s taken on private nurse duties for a young, pregnant woman named Rand (Sabrina Ouazani) whose husband awaits sentencing from an Israeli judge. Chloé is equally friendly with Ava (Sivan Levy), a female soldier who lives one floor below her. They share the ride to work every day with Ava stopping at the border while Chloé continues past it.
The film follows Chloé’s day to day experiences in a world where the cycle of violence is never-ending, and all the club-hopping, drinks with friends, and late night calls home to her mother in Canada can’t change that. She’s witness to the carnage left behind by terrorist bombings and the human rights violations, violent inspections and casual death that come as retribution, and like everyone else there’s not a damn thing she can do about any of it.
Writer/director Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette‘s second feature is less of a narrative than it is a straight forward, fly on the wall-type look at life on the border. Chloé has no dog in this fight, and the film never flinches from showing the difficulties and frustrations inherent in such an untenable situation, but the wounds she’s tasked with healing are all on one side. As her experiences rack up including the unnecessary deaths of two children she fights to stay neutral, but she’s reminded more than once that “both sides is no side” at all.
It’s a draining, heart-breaking and difficult watch at times, and it soon becomes clear that Chloé is heading toward a breaking point. Rand and Ava hold opposite ends of the tightrope she’s attempting to walk, and time spent on both sides reveals the people involved instead of the politics. Her friends show her the beauty on both sides, but they’re equally aware of the pointless suffering and tragedy. The matter of fact presentation makes the film a more powerful experience as it becomes fairly easy to put ourselves in Chloé’s shoes as she sees her efforts prove fruitless in an inevitable and seemingly unstoppable situation that’s so much bigger than them all. The title’s loosely translated meaning of “god willing” infers an unfortunate acceptance of that inevitability.
At least it feels that way for most of the film, but Barbeau-Lavalette’s script steps away from the spectator seat in the third act to “make” drama where no such artifice was needed. It’s not wholly unexpected, but the story to that point doesn’t truly earn the outcome through its setup. This is already an emotionally devastating tale due in part to the reality behind it all.
Just as relevant to the film’s power though are the performances. Brochu delivers a character who experiences all of the wonder, fear, joy, confusion and terror and makes it all so utterly tangible. Her time spent in video communication with her mother says it all even as she’s not actually saying all that much. Ouazani is equally compelling as a woman fully ensconced in the dangerous world of the border. Her husband’s incarceration and her brother’s ties to radicals only exacerbate her situation.Levy meanwhile has less to do but still gets across a powerful range of emotion through simple looks. Her eyes alternate on a whim between drifting off and penetrating the viewer.
Inch’Allah is a powerful tale that loses its way in the final act, but while it damages the movie it can’t lessen all that came before. It also can’t lessen our awareness of the very sad reality.
The Upside: An at times fascinating glimpse into life on the Israeli/Palestinian border; emotionally acted
The Downside: Ending doesn’t feel earned; film leans visibly to one side
On the Side: Inch’Allah is only the latest in a recent spate of Canadian productions focused on the Middle East including Monsieur Lazhar and Incendies.