Inch’Allah review: it’s not all about us
The striking story of a Western doctor in Palestine and her long, hard path to the realization that all of her good intentions can barely begin to counter the tidal wave of history she has chosen to surf.
I’m “biast” (pro):
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Nice white Canadian doctor goes to Palestine, wants to help poor disenfranchised people who aren’t getting quite the attention they should. Well, nice white Canadian doctor goes to Israel to live and has to cross the border every day into the camps to the jury-rigged medical clinic that has to shut down on days when it’s just too dangerous to be there, because terrorism and politics and entrenched anger. But still: there’s the do-gooding and the beneficence. If Inch’Allah — which translates from Arabic to French (and then to English) as “Allah willing” or “God willing” or, more loosely, “hopefully” — sounds like yet another condescending “privileged Westerner deems to help the less fortunate and learns about the true meaning of life” melodrama, think again. This is the striking story of Chloé (Evelyne Brochu, who kept making me think of a young Sigourney Weaver), who takes the long, hard path to the realization that all of her good intentions and all of her good deeds can barely begin to counter the tidal wave of history she has chosen to surf. Which isn’t to say that her good intentions and good deeds aren’t worth doing, either… Writer-director Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette drops us into Chloé’s life in the Middle East with nary a word of explanation — we pick it up as we follow her routine between the clinic in Ramallah, where she has befriended her pregnant patient Rand (Sabrina Ouazani), and her apartment in Jerusalem, where she has befriended border-control soldier Ava (Sivan Levy), her neighbor. It’s all very slice of life, from nightclub outings with Ava to dinners at Rand’s home (sometimes a bunkering down necessitated by terror attacks in the Palestinian camp), through which Barbeau-Lavalette finds affecting ways to highlight not only the desperate plight of the Palestinians but the frustrations of ordinary people on both sides of the border who are coping with an impossible situation they did not create. (Rand’s very young brother, who goes nowhere without his superhero cape, is a terrible, lovely icon of hope.) But even as we privileged Westerners watching are fooled into thinking that Chloé is the central character, the perspective shifts to remind us that this is not Chloé’s story at all, and that she is just as much an observer, and one without a true stake here, as we are. It’s a startling admonishment, and a humbling one.