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Among the growing number of films coming out of Palestine, one can see the divide opening up between locally made, no-budget documentaries like Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s stirring 5 Broken Cameras and well-financed Western coprods like Denis Villeneuve’s Oscar nominee Incendies. Squarely in the latter category, the Canadian-French Inch’Allah has all the right credentials, including writer-director Anais Barbeau-Lavalette’s (If I Had a Hat, The Fight) passionate feeling for the region, but lacks the originality to catch fire, or to go beyond an outsider’s p.o.v. In the end, it illuminates Western preconceptions more than the motivation behind terrorism. Tackling such a sensitive and controversial topic in a highly obvious way, the drama will have some trouble slipping past the festival wall into commercial arenas, though following its Toronto bow, it will be released in Quebec by Les Films Christal at the end of the month.
The action opens with a powerful explosion in an Israeli outdoor café, which will be explained at the end of the film. The whole story unfolds through the unblinking, doe-like eyes of Chloe (Evelyne Brochu), a young Canadian obstetrician who is working in a clinic for pregnant women in a refugee camp in Ramallah, Palestine. Every night she passes through border control on her way back to her Jerusalem apartment. She spends evenings on the town with her drinking buddy Ava (Sivan Levy), an Israeli conscript her own age whose much more expressive eyes convey the horror and despair she feels over her work as an armed border guard.
In the clinic, Chloe becomes close to the pregnant Rand (Sabrina Ouazani) and her militant big brother Faysal (Yousef Sweid.) The poorest of the poor, Rand and her little brother, the autistic Safi, scavenge in a garbage dump along the wall separating the camp from a settlement of Israeli colonists. There are skirmishes. When one character is deliberately crushed under an Israeli army tank, and another is sentenced to 25 years in prison, and another is cruelly denied access to the hospital that would save her baby, the stage is set and the fuse is lit.
Barbeau-Lavalette’s screenplay is too by-the-numbers to convince an audience that reality is this simple. Its portrait of endless misery is unleavened by the joking camaraderie and family warmth that local filmmakers normally inject to lighten the load (Elia Suleiman springs readily to mind.) More importantly, her Canadian protag seems too inert to have ever landed up where she did, making her an untrustworthy witness to all these tragedies.
If Brochu seems permanently depressed and distanced in the lead role, the lively, outspoken Ouazani makes Rand intense and appealing, if unpredictable. Sivan Levy (Polytechnique, Café de Flore) brings a pleasing psychological complexity to the Israeli character Ava that helps balance the story a little bit.
Tech work is good throughout, while Levon Minassian’s somber, dirge-like music track underlines the tragedy of the war.
Venue: Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 12, 2012.
Production companies: micro-scope (Canada), ID Unlimited (France) in association with July August Productions (Israel)
Cast: Evelyne Brochu, Sabrina Ouazani, Sivan Levy, Yousef Sweid, Carlo Brandt, Marie-Therese Fortin
Director: Anais Barbeau-Lavalette
Screenwriter: Anais Barbeau-Lavalette
Producer: Luc Dery, Kim McCraw
Coproducer: Isabelle Dubar
Associate producers: Eilon Ratzovsky, Yochanan Kredo
Director of photography: Philippe Lavalette
Production designer: Andre-Line Beauparlant
Costumes: Sophie Lefebvre
Editor: Sophie Leblond
Music: Levon Minassian
Sales Agent: eOne Entertainment
No rating, 101 minutes.
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