Back during the Toronto International Film Festival if one had asked me what I thought the front runner for the Canadian entry into Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards would be, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say the tense and thoughtful Israeli set Inch’Allah. Turns out I was wrong, and while there’s nothing that can be taken away from Rebelle (War Witch) which ended up getting the nod instead, Inch’Allah still remains the best Canadian made drama of the year. It’s a film that openly courts controversy by simply not taking a concrete side in one of the world’s oldest military conflicts and turns indifference on its head by crafting a deeply affecting portrait of one idealist’s fight to understand something they could never hope to comprehend.
Quebecois nurse Chloe (Evelyne Brochu) works just across the Israeli-Palestinian border as an ultrasound technician in a women’s clinic. Her closest confidant is a generally well adjusted and somewhat sympathetic border guard on the Israeli side and she has recently become a large part of the life of an expectant mother and her family in a settlement that’s recently come under heavy fire from the Israeli army. Torn between heritage and duty, as well as what’s right and wrong, Chloe struggles to make sense of the world around her when her intentions are admittedly pure. Her personal beliefs will be put to the test in astounding ways, and her actions no matter how pure will always end up offending someone to the point where they potentially have life or death consequences.
Documentarian Anais Barbeau-Lavalette makes the jump to fictional storytelling quite well, giving her film a sense of pace and place that makes the film look grand, but feel claustrophobic. The country as shown in her vision is definitely a small world where people can be literally scavenging for trash mere metres away from a wealthy and well protected enclave. The moments of peace in this film are dripping with tension; tenuous and full of dread and unease, and while Barbeau-Lavalette never picks a side, a clear distinction is still struck between Palestine and Israel.
Holding the film’s interesting separate elements, however, is an exemplary performance from Brochu. This isn’t a film about a character searching for answers or meaning in a warzone, but someone chronically confused and angry at a situation she deep down knows she could never hope to understand. Chloe’s moral breakdown coupled with her complete lack of sleep and solace leads to a moment in a film that can be equally seen as personally necessary and a critical misstep. To say any more would be spoiling the film and the core turning point in the film, but it’s thrilling to watch thanks to Brochu’s humanity and subtlety.
In the last five minutes of the film, after a sadly foretold conclusion, Barbeau-Lavalette trips ever so slightly with a moment that might be a bit too “on the nose” for a film that takes such an a political stance. It’s a moment designed to spark discussion when the rest of the film does just fine without it. In the end, though, it’s simply splitting hairs when the rest of the film is as excellent as it is. And in light of recent events, it’s more topical and thought provoking than it was when I first watched it back in September.
Cast: Evelyne Brochu, Sabrina Ouazani
Directed by: Anais Barbeau-Lavalette
Top image: A scene from Inch’Allah. Courtesy eOne Films.