An uncertain Canadian in the West Bank.
DIRECTED BY ANAIS BARBEAU-LAVALETTE
“Both sides is no side,” chides Palestinian activist Faysal (Yousef Sweid) midway through Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette’s Inch’Allah, an involving if awkwardly executed look at the Israel-Palestine conflict through the eyes of a Canadian abroad. Faysal is speaking to Chloe (Evelyne Brochu), a young francophone physician whose loyalties are divided between the man’s Palestinian family and her Israeli border-guard neighbour beyond the barrier. But he’s really directing his message at Canada, which Chloe is meant to embody by virtue of her terribly earnest face, all furrowed brows and uncommitted doe-eyes.
Passed over as Canada’s Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film despite its heavy national content, Inch’Allah lives and dies by its allegory, an initially compelling but ultimately vague premise that can’t sustain the scrutiny invited by a feature-length film. While that ideological program makes the film topical, what’s most impressive is Barbeau-Lavalette’s trained documentarian’s vision. Recurring surveillance imagery is an unsubtle nod to the film’s privileged western viewpoint, to be sure, but Barbeau-Lavalette has a good eye for the way power flows through politically charged spaces like turnstiles and waiting rooms. More is said in a single image of Chloe casually waving off a frustrated patient in a hallway than in any number of speeches on the value of an interloper’s commitment to the political health of her adoptive home.
If only that visual intelligence was supported by a more cogent script. The problem isn’t that Chloe—and by extension, the film—eventually takes a side, but that her status as a stand-in for Canada makes her eventual decision to act seem like a sudden bout of hysteria triggered by only the foggiest sense of social injustice. Inch’Allah‘s failure as both an allegory and a polemic is that, by the end, its images of violence strike us as an empty recitation rather than a token of any real significance. Which is a sign that without context, choosing a side can be as hollow as phony neutrality.