Gotta confess: I’m no expert on the whole Israeli/Palenstinian conflict. At best, I’d say I have a rudimentary understanding that might be one or two percent better than the average American (I’m a confessed news junkie); still, there’s an awful lot of history between these two peoples that just plain escapes me. What I do know about the West Bank is that … well, I personally wouldn’t ever want to visit there. My heart breaks when I think about anyone being kept out of what he or she considers his or her native land, but that’s an oversimplification of one of the seminal conflicts of the modern age (if not much, much longer).
However, I’m not entirely convinced taking my cues from INCH’ALLAH – I’m understanding that loosely translates to “God Willing” – would be the proper thing to do. As a film, there’s nothing all that compelling to its message, though it’s packed with performances that occasionally simmer and it’s constructed in such a way as to make an audience believe that this story is all you need to know about that part of the world. And that’s just not true.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at “things to come,” then read on …)
Chloe (played by a smolderingly attractive Evelyne Brochu – so sue me, feminists!) is a young Canadian doctor who lives in Israel but works ‘beyond the wall’ in the West Bank, taking care of Palestinian refugees in need of medical attention. Despite the protestations of her colleague, she’s grown closer and closer to one of her patients: Rand (Sabrina Ouazani) is an expectant mother whose husband is away, caught in the legal limbo of incarceration awaiting sentencing. Each day she remains there, Chloe finds herself more personally invested in the conflict until she reaches a point of no return … and unleashes a tragedy even she never predicted.
Try as it might, INCH’ALLAH attempts to persuade the audience that good people exist in such places. Clearly writer/director Anais Barbeau-Lavalette couldn’t settle on one simple persuasion alone, so, as her progresses, it grows more and more contrived. Never one happy with being a bystander to history, Chloe ends up inserting herself into the lives of the very people who have caused a fair amount of the bloodshed and misery she’s been sent there to treat, but apparently that irony escapes even her.
This is the kind of picture that’s chosen from the outset to essentially take one side in the political conflict (hint: it isn’t the Israelis!), and, as such, I think the choice couldn’t support the narrative. For example, Chloe – who is supposed to be educated – makes one bad decision after another the only puts herself in greater jeopardy; and yet we as an audience are supposed to believe that this ‘doctor without border’ has the best interests of civilization at heart?
Despite all of the mild browbeating, Barbeau-Lavalette does pay lip service to the Israelis. How? She gives them pretty faces and nice smiles and even tries (at one point) to allow a guard an easy out in having him point out that everyone is basically just trying to make the best of a really bad situation here. That balderdash just doesn’t fly with anyone’s world view or, at least, it shouldn’t, and I honestly expected more of a picture that’s won praise from the Toronto International Film Festival. Maybe that’s my shortcoming.
The film works best, though, when it allows viewers into the lives of the two women at the heart of the weak narrative: Chloe and Rand. They come from different worlds. They lead entirely different lives. Still, in all of this chaos, they find one another. They grow closer together. They experience tragedy, and, like anyone would in his weakest moment, they allow that tragedy to overcome how they would otherwise rationally deal with further developments. By the picture’s end, though, Chloe has proven to me that this is one physician I wouldn’t let anywhere near me.
Or my children.
Or my country.
INCH’ALLAH (2012) was directed by Anais Barbeau-Lavalette. The film is produced by micro_scope, ID Unlimited, July August Productions, and International Traders. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled by Entertainment One (aka E One). For those needing it spelled out perfect, this is a French spoken language film – with healthy sections of English, Hebrew, and Arabic – with English subtitles available. As for the technical specifications, the film looks and sounds mostly solid, though I’ll admit I had to crank up the volume in a few places in order to clearly understand the spoken English (plenty of mumbles). If it’s special features you’re looking for, you’re likely to be disappointed: there’s about six minutes of deleted scenes (nothing all the revelatory but there was a nice ‘good morning’ exchange between the two lead actresses) and a three minute short film that plays out (sadly) like political propaganda – you won’t miss anything if you pass these up.
RECOMMENDED. I found it a bit difficult to take away any grand lesson from INCH’ALLAH. Essentially, parts of the motion picture feel like a bad road trip – a guided tour through some of the bleakest real estate you’re likely to run across anywhere – with all of these characters simply filling in the gaps with modest story from one scene to the next. Instead of caring about these people, I ended up hating one (stick with it until the end, and you might figure out, I won’t spoil it for you) and barely understanding any of the others. Also, I thought the film played fairly fast and loose with the real-world politics of the situation regarding Israel and Palestine – paying lip service to both might work for some, but I prefer having a bit more definitiveness in my pictures.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Entertainment One (aka E One) provided me with a DVD copy of INCH’ALLAH by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.