Starring Evelyne Brochu, Sabrina Ouazani. Written and directed by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette. 14A. 101 min. Opens Nov. 23 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Though Inch’Allah is the latest new drama by the Montreal production team behind Incendies and Monsieur Lazhar, it has a far different focus than that of its Oscar-nominated predecessors. Whereas those movies told the stories of exiles in Canada who struggle with the effects of traumas suffered in long-departed homelands, Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette’s second feature concentrates our attention on a Canadian facing perils abroad. What’s more, Inch’Allah’s heroine represents a national stereotype, that of the noble-minded altruist working for the good of humankind amid the dangers of a conflict zone. It’s much to Barbeau-Lavalette’s credit that she is able to unpack this much-cherished idea of ourselves as globe-trotting saviours and peacekeepers with such insightfulness, even if flaws in her storytelling undo some of the good she accomplishes.
The director’s cause is greatly aided by Evelyne Brochu’s intense lead performance as Chloé, a Québécois doctor working in a women’s health clinic in a Palestinian community in the West Bank. As you might expect, her life seems as divided as the society around her—when not enjoying clubs and cafés on the other side of the barrier with her Israeli soldier pal Ava (Sivian Levy), she gets closer to the family of Rand (Sabrina Ouazani), a pregnant patient. Chloé’s burgeoning romance with Rand’s brother Faysal (Yousef Sweid) is one of several developments that compel the good doctor to question her non-partisan position.
While Chloé’s politicization makes for compelling dramatic material, it also serves to emphasize Inch’Allah’s overly schematic nature. Likewise, the film’s naturalistic style—much enhanced by the handheld camerawork by the director’s father, Philippe Lavalette—is undermined by the more didactic nature of the climactic events. Even so, the movie’s urgency and intelligence are much appreciated, as is its keen-eyed portrayal of the challenges that face any well-intentioned Canadian trying to preserve the illusion of neutrality while stuck between two sides.