Inch’Allah: Stuck in the Middle (East) With You

A Quebec doctor finds herself in the middle of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the latest drama from local director Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette.

What makes a terrorist? Inch’Allah grapples with this one-ton question in the context of the Palestine-Israel conflict. It’s an understatement to say that local director Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette has chosen a daunting premise for her sophomore feature (after 2007’s The Ring), the latest “issue film” from the powerhouse producers responsible for Incendies and Monsieur Lazhar.

Chloé (Evelyne Brochu), a young doctor from Quebec, is stationed in a women’s health centre in the West Bank. She becomes increasingly close to a pregnant patient, Rand (Sabrina Ouazani), and by extension Rand’s family, including her brother, a broodingly attractive Palestinian liberation activist (Yousef Sweid). Each night, Chloé walks back through the checkpoints and takes a bus to her apartment in Tel Aviv. There, she’s befriended an Israeli her age (Sivian Levy) who is begrudgingly serving her time in mandatory military service.

Witness to the ups and downs of Palestinian life — from the garbage and bombs to the music and joking around — Chloé stands in for most viewers, and even outside governments: she is equal parts bewildered and fascinated, a well-intentioned outsider who intervenes in petty ways before taking on more radical responsibilities. She, we — all of us, are as naive as the little kid who, early in the movie, steps in front of an Israeli army tank in a stupidly useless act of martyrdom.

A movie anchored by women (Chloé and Rand’s mothers also make brief, but important, appearances), Inch’Allah is better at describing their personal fights for freedom than it is at depicting the larger-picture battle. A single tube of lipstick means defiance in the hands of one character, submission in another’s and normalcy in its owner’s.

As for capturing today’s Israel-Palestine: Barbeau-Lavalette, a Quebecker who worked and studied in the region for several years, doesn’t quite rise up to the challenge she’s created for herself. She makes the wise choice to speak only from the point of view of an outsider, Chloé. The characters, often inspired by real people, display suitably realistic quirks. The sets are impressive, including a 600-metre reconstruction of the wall dividing Palestine and Israel. But ultimately, Barbeau-Lavalette fails to evoke a flesh-and-blood West Bank. The movie has an airless, symbol-laden quality.

It is, however, a gripping soap opera about the dilemna of the every(wo)man caught in conflict. When does someone else’s war become your own? ■


Inch’Allah opens Sept. 28

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