Inch’Allah is the story of a French-Canadian obstetrician walking the cultural and concrete divide between Palestinians and Israelis. While she tries to tread lightly — befriending those on both sides of the conflict — our young, wide-eyed doctor can’t help but tumble when the story pushes her into tragedy.
Evelyne Brochu plays Chloé, the doctor, and carries an amazing amount of the film on her face. Almost immediately, we find her moving toward the camera, moving through a crowd of people whose culture and religion and politics and priorities are profoundly different (and more emotionally complicated) than her own. With her scrappy but consistently charming hair-do, Chloé seems to embody the role of stoic heroine. She looks not a year out of college, but eager to experience life in a land more exotic than Quebec while also working on the front lines of an international conflict.
Note: Chloé just seems to be this person. Her day job is in a tiny clinic in a Palestinian community, but she spends many a daylight hour just hanging out with one of her super pregnant patients, a fiery Palestinian named Rand (Sabrina Ouazani). Their evening outings usually consist of Rand and local children digging through trash heaps, looking for provisions, as Chloe watches, occasionally stopping to parry their jokes while perhaps pondering late-night plans, in Tel Aviv.
Across the cultural divide, where Chloé sleeps, is her beloved neighbor and drinking buddy, a soldier name Ava (Sivan Levy). The two spend nearly every night together, enjoying a life that looks particularly Western, Mediterranean after an Italian or French fashion. During one of their chats, Ava tells Chloé she hates her new assignment: working border duty near Chloé’s clinic. “I’d rather be in an office,” Ava laments.
Ava seems resigned to witnessing unpleasant, or frankly awful, culture clashes. But such things are all new to Chloé. She’s horrified when she sees a Palestinian boy blatantly run over by an Israeli truck. With the boy’s blood on her shoes, and not a word in the Israeli news, Chloé spits her frustration at Ava, who counters with a tragedy of her own: that two of her fellow soldiers were critically wounded by attackers. The soldiers survive; the boy wasn’t so lucky.
Without question, Inch’Allah is sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians. The very title is such a testament: it means “God willing” in Arabic. In and of itself, that’s totally cool. But Inch’Allah falters with Chloé in general, with centering so much on her when she’s really not much more than a naive husk of a character. In some ways, she’s like a silent video game protagonist. You see the world and the story through her, but she seems more a tool than a creature full of thoughts and dreams, feelings and inconsistencies. Mind you: this is not to say the movie is emotionally empty. There are some really wonderful, human moments, such as when Rand and her mother pee on the dust where their old bathroom used to be, laughing all the while. It captures a sort of sweat-and-sunlight beauty, one that makes Tel Aviv’s cafes and club scene look rather cheap.
The film’s crescendo is a one-two punch: a set of tragedies that harkens back to the film’s first scene, a suicide bombing. Perhaps Inch’Allah wants us to reflect on the friction between two cultures, and how quickly it can escalate to violence. But there’s still the problem of Chloé. She’s too vapid to merit so much time in front of the camera. But maybe she’s supposed to be the West in general. Perhaps the movie is a parable about not going into war zones with just dreams, thinking one can understand the multiple sides of a conflict and make moves that only bring forth prosperity and peace. Considering this week’s news on Syria, perhaps Inch’Allah‘s showing is profoundly timely.