When a film ignites enough controversy to be pulled from a film festival, as writer-director Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette’s intense and unflinching Inch’Allah was from Australia’s touring Israeli package this past April, there are a few ways to interpret such an act. First of all, the creative: regardless of individual reactions to, and opinions of, the film, Barbeau-Lavalette and her team must be doing something right to generate such conflicting passions. This is what socially conscious films are supposed to do. Secondly, the political: a simple search of the web will yield numerous news articles on the event, but the gist of the situation seems to be that complaints against the movie were enough for the organiser of the festival, who admitted he doesn’t usually get involved in creative decisions, to yank the film mid-tour.
the performances are pitch-perfect
So, what is it about Inch’Allah that set off the firestorm? First, the plot—or at least most of it; this is a film that cries out to be seen first and analysed after the fact. A young Quebeçois obstetrician, Chloé (Evelyne Brochu), lives in Jerusalem but commutes daily through checkpoints to the West Bank Palestinian refugee camp—the film was shot in Jordan—to the clinic at which she shares duties with her boss, Michaël (Carlo Brandt). Each day she is escorted by her downstairs neighbor Ava (Sivian Levy), a soldier who hates her job manning the crowded and chaotic border post through which Chloé must pass.
Whilst doing her job, she meets and befriends young Rand (Sabrina Ouazani), who is pregnant with her first child by an unseen husband awaiting jail time. Rand introduces her to home life camp style, with her mother and militant brother Faysal (Yousef Sweid). Rand, and soon Chloé, spend their free time picking through garbage at the wall, surrounded by cynical, wise-cracking kids.
As impassive as she may appear, Chloé is clearly sensitive to the chaos and tension around her. As she strikes up an improbable friendship with Faysal and dances in the evening at clubs with Ava, it’s clear she’s headed for a crisis of conscience: 'you can’t just turn up around here and play with our shit like that," Ava says, even as Faysal, when Chloé makes it possible for the family to cross the border and visit the site of his mother’s birthplace, demands to know of the doctor, 'Have you ever had something stolen that you can’t replace?"
An escalating series of attacks, culminating with a tragedy involving Rand’s child as they sit stuck in checkpoint traffic, drive Chloé to make a fateful and decisive decision that has deadly consequences. It is precisely those consequences that will provoke audiences, particularly those with a stake in the long-running disputes and violence in the Middle East. And that is an artist’s job, which renders the film a success at both moral drama and political statement. From a craft perspective, the performances, particularly by French-born Algerian Ouazani, are pitch-perfect. The hand-held camera of cinematographer Philippe Lavalette, the director’s father, evokes the dangerous and unpredictable nature of the milieu, whilst Levon Minassian’s brooding score, particularly over the closing credits, underscores the sadness of the human tragedy.
Australian and New Zealand distributor Vendetta Films has one-off screenings in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, with more to come around the country prior to the DVD release in March 2014.
When he pulled the film, the organiser said it wasn’t right to endorse the protagonist’s decision. That’s as well may be, but it is the responsibility of a film festival to endorse responsible, intelligent, resonant cinema whenever and wherever possible, and Inch’Allah is nothing if not thought-provoking.
Thursday 13 May, 7:35pm on SBS World Movies (streaming after at SBS On Demand)
Canada, Jordan, 2013
Director: Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette
Starring: Evelyne Brochu, Sabrina Ouazani, Omri Ilan, Lionel Calniquer, Gil Desiano