Movie Review: Inch’Allah

On my list of movies to watch I mentioned several female filmmakers whose work I’m interested in. One is Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette. This review of her film starts a loose series on Women In and Making Film. 

A shorter version of this review appeared on Letterboxd here.


This film easily could have been a cliched tale about a white savior doctor. It could have been an average movie with stunning attention to detail and a good ability for blocking without seeming to. It could have taken, as some reviews seem to think, ‘an irresponsible view towards terrorism’ or been ‘too well-intentioned [and] slowly paced.’  But it escapes all this through several means, and most importantly by focusing on women.

It’s not that it simply makes a picture and puts women in ‘men’s roles;’ that would not only be uninteresting in this case, but unrealistic for the cultures and region the film addresses. Instead, it takes an area and conflict we often see via a man’s viewpoint in context of male relationships, power, and vulnerability, and examines women – on Israeli and Palestinian sides and in between – instead. We see women’s friendships with other women, how women cope in a world dominated by men, the way women are assigned responsibility for children, the omnipresent possibility of sexual assault, etc.

I won’t review this movie by telling all of what happens, because that could be done in perhaps five sentences, and then you wouldn’t want to watch the movie. Even once you do, the first few acts unfold as you expect. The point is to see how it unfolds, how these women move through what is, to them, everyday life. It differs from a picture full of men not because women are, at their core, different – emotions of anger, fear, resentment, bravery, love, desire, despair, etc., are universal and brought on by similar things – but because society places on them different burdens, expectations, hinderances, and situational responsibilities and terrors.

Like the depth of field, which is smoothly fluid and rejects attention-grabbing rack focuses, Barbeau-Lavalette carefully chooses what to focus on. Details are important: smudges of blood on shoes, lipstick, flowers, a gun gently rattling against a bus window, a ubiquitous red cape. Many other things are implied: sexual encounters; where, exactly, a woman goes from frustrated bystander to active participant; how all of this impacts our mothers.

As for that red cape, it belongs to a young boy. What it says about the pervasiveness, impotence, and naivety of supposed superheroes, particularly American, in this conflict is powerful. The statement of the cape contradicts anyone who supposes Chloe is supposed to be a heroine, either in the beginning or the end. In addition, all the other characters are aware of and play on Chloe’s naivety. She’s not supposed to be a savior. She doesn’t act like one. She is, and is aware of, her inadequacies, and to some extent they’re what drive her decisions. They and her refusal to stay neutral, buying into the idea one must act on choosing a side.  

It’s a beautiful film which isn’t afraid of holding its shots, holding our gaze, and never looking down. Literally, the camera doesn’t look down. When things are thrown to the floor or shown beneath the camera’s ‘eyeline,’ you expect it to follow, but it doesn’t. It stays looking steadily square at the characters.

The one time we see all three central women together, exchanging a half dozen words, awkward without being able to voice why, their similarities stand out more than their differences. By this point we know where it will end; as mentioned, surprise isn’t the point. When it gets to its conclusions, it’s one of those endings which could be cheesy but isn’t. I thought of the end of Lives of Others, in the bookstore, with the line ‘this is for me,’ which could have been contrived but plays as a perfect moment. It’s the sort of picture, the sort of line, which lands not because it’s unexpected or transcendent, but because we have become involved with the stories which lead to the moment.

Spoiler alert: everybody’s wronged, everybody’s somewhat right, nobody wins.

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