Former documentary filmmaker Anais Barbeau-Lavalette opens her film about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in the only way possible, with a bomb exploding. It happens in the middle of the day on a crowded street without context. It’s an instant shock tactic and the kind of thing heard through news cycles constantly that brings distress to anyone living outside the region without a great deal of personal connection. Then Barbeau-Lavalette dials things back and slowly builds up a story leading to that explosion. When the film eventually catches up to the opening, the audience has a relationship with those involved and the blast cuts deeper, with mixed emotions. It’s a fairly clever way of exploring this oft-discussed issue and even if it’s safe to say that the filmmaker doesn’t necessarily add much new to the conversation, she has created one of the more heartfelt and affecting movies on this topic in recent years. It’s obviously not going to be a blockbuster, but if you’re anxious to see a movie on “Israel Vs. Palestine The 2012 Edition”, it won’t get much better than this.
French/Canadian actress Evelyne Brochu stars as Chloe, a young nurse living in Israel. By day she works as a nurse in a refugee camp in Ramallah, Palestine. At night she goes home to a nice apartment in Jerusalem. Every day she must cross the border and through good old fashioned screenwriting contrivance, she’s perfectly positioned between the two worlds. On the Israeli side, Chloe spends her nights dancing and drinking with Ava (Sivan Levy), an Israli woman her own age who is serving out her military turn as a border guard. On the Palestinian side, Chloe becomes close friends with Rand (Sabrina Ouazani) an impoverished pregnant woman whose husband/father-to-be is about faces prison time and whose militant brother fights for his people. Chloe sees the intense poverty and repression that Rand and her people face daily, while also seeing the stress and discomfort that Ava faces while trying to avoid conflict. Chloe initially intends to avoid being wrapped up in the conflict, even attempting to bridge the gap between her two friends with a kindly donated lipstick (no points for guessing which side that came from). But after seeing children run over by tanks and struggling to get Rand across a closed border while she’s giving birth, Chloe can’t help but become infuriated and connected to the whole situation. Don’t forget that bombing is still on the way and it’s really going to hurt by round 2.
The writer/director admirably attempts to make a film that never picks one side of the issue. By literally placing her protagonist between the two sides, both the Israeli and Palestinian people are presented with respect and dignity. She never shies away from the unfortunate extremes that must be taken by either side during a war and at times the film can be appropriately ugly. By the end it might have been nice for a little subjective editorializing to slip in, simply to try and enlighten the audience one way or the other. However, the film is too PC for that and too be fair, the issue itself is two complex for black and white moralization. Barbeau-Lavalette’s father shot the film with intimate handheld photography that draws the audience into the tale without ever becoming a shaky distraction. The focus is on the characters and the director finds some extraordinary performances in both Brochu’s doe eyed outsider innocent getting scarred and some remarkable work from Levy who has a particularly challenging role at the center of the film’s tragedy that she delivers with stark realism that thankfully never stretches into unwelcome melodramatics. Sure, there are small characters on either side of the tale that become caricatures to serve the film’s politics, but that narrative necessity never becomes excessive and is done as tastefully as possible.
Ultimately, you’re not going to come out of Inch’Allah with an entirely new perspective on Israel and nor should you. While some might be frustrated by Barbeau-Lavalette’s feature length ode to fence-sitting, that’s really the most rational approach. Unfortunately this is one of those issues and wars that could never be boiled down to good guys and bad guys. Blood and innocence can and should be extended to both sides, which is exactly why the war will seemingly never end. Barbeau-Lavalette’s sensitively and powerfully finds ways to walk the tightrope to create a relatively impartial take of the conflict that simply presents the whole thing as a tragedy. Now, it’s entirely fair that you wouldn’t want to dwell on the war in the theater given that it’s playing out in the international media daily. However, if you’re anxious to see a film on this conflict while it’s so timely, there are few better than this. Be prepared to feel depressed and furious as you leave the theater though. That’s kind of the only logical reaction to the whole mess/film.