In a US culture overly saturated with entertainment as the prevailing perspective on all aspects of reality, a sobering or even sharply honed focus on what’s really going down in the world is exceedingly hard to come by. Or as Red 2 screenwriter Erich Hoeber so tellingly put it regarding the CIA comedic thriller and by extension most movies today, ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.’
And this unsettling thought could not be more blatant when it comes to the critical response to French Canadian filmmaker Anais Barbeau-Lavalette’s Palestinian dramatic feature, Inch’Allah. Lost at sea so to speak, in confrontation with the raw, brutal socio-political intensity and imagery radiating from the film, the critics have been wringing their collective hands and falling back on the more convenient and familiar hermetic measuring stick of history in movies, as merely gratifying consumerism.
Which is a little problematic to say the least, when probing painful issues playing out in the world, in effect reduced by critics to assorted conspicuous and disturbing elephants in the room. And while bypassing conversations focusing on insight and understanding through the vehicle of passionate storytelling, in favor of purchased popular amusement and customer satisfaction.
And what Inch’Allah provokes in viewers instead, is a complex and troubling view of the Palestinian conflict that for a change, does not revolve around a white outsider protagonist. Well actually it does, with Evelyne Brochu cast as Chloe, a Western doctor who volunteers to travel to Israel and cross the border each day to work in a women’s health clinic in the West Bank. And that’s not much to know about her, but is thankfully sufficient. In order to focus instead on the indigenous world around Chloe – who serves as a kind of vessel and muted protagonist for a change – as viewed through the eyes of the victims surrounding her.
Central to this mounting narrative tension is Rand, a pregnant Palestinian woman played by Algerian actress Sabrina Ouazani, who visits the clinic regularly and is approaching her due date for giving birth. But Rand seems to have little joy as a prospective new mother, resentful and defiant as she rummages daily through mounds of garbage dumps lining the Israeli Wall imprisoning all of them – as she scours for items she can sell for a meager subsistence.
The two women form a tentative and uneasy bond, fraught with the troubling legacy of historical divisions. And additionally complicated and confused by Chloe torn between Rand and a growing friendship with another woman, a neighbor back at her Israeli apartment building who is a young soldier on checkpoint duty amid the mounting chaos – in all their lives, and in a deeply scarred society swirling around them.
Multi-layered, eloquently crafted, and both heartfelt and harrowing, Inch’Allah might also be described as the most extraordinarly powerful horror movie this year. And in its own politically and by extension narratively subversive way, embracing a rare approach when it comes to human history in films today. And as so insightfully expressed by colleague critic Louis Proyect, in contrast to the prevailing point of view of aforementioned filmmakers like Erich Hoeber: ‘Why go to such lengths to lie, when you can simply tell the truth.’