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Film Review: Inshallah A Boy (Inchallah Un Fils)
by Marinell Haegelin

Amjad Al Rasheed, Jordan, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar 2023

The misogynistically manipulative cultural impact against women in Middle Eastern societies is an oft-repeated theme in homegrown films. In HOLY SPIDER (Iran), 2022, a woman’s mandatory wearing of a hijab (headscarf) was prominent, while in QUEENS (MALIKATES [Morocco]), 2022, it’s the husband’s control of the wife’s earnings. Jordanian director Amjad Al Rasheed’s approach in his debut feature film is a cohesive blend, guided by his relative’s true experience. Rula Nasser and Delphine Agut contributed to the screenplay adding feminine insight. Premiering at Cannes Film Festival in 2023 it won the Grand Foundation Award for Distribution.

Ululations, supportive words, and advice from family and friends blunt Nawal’s (a breakout performance by Mouna Hawa) shock, grief, and disbelief at her husband Adnan’s sudden death in his 30s. Leaning on her (spineless) brother Ahmad (Mohammed Al Jizawi) and Rifqi (Hitham Omari), her brother-in-law’s concern is quickly displaced by an overpowering interest in money Adnan still owes toward his truck. Surprised, pressured, and desperate, Nawal sends 10-year-old Nora (Celina Rabab’a) back to school, returning to work earlier than the three-month mourning period. Caring for a wealthy, dispassionate family’s elderly Alzheimer mum (Siranoush Sultanian) for a meager wage, the daughter Souad’s (Salwa Nakkara) curt, relieved at Nawal’s return. The physiotherapist Hassan (Eslam Al-Awadi) is polite, solicitous, and offers help. Nawal stubbornly refuses to sell the truck, even though she can’t drive. Rifqi secures a court appointment; Nawal must present the (small) apartment’s deed. Jordan’s patriarchal judiciary unequivocally states that only with a male heir can Nawal retain her child and home. Souad’s daughter Lauren (Yumna Marwan), daring, liberated, and estranged from her husband, confides her pregnancy to the caregiver. Slickly changing tactics, Rifqi’s self-assertive interest in Nora’s wellbeing eventually leads to her living with his family. At this point and with nothing to lose Nawal puts in motion an ill-conceived plan that requires carefully nurturing certain liaisons.

Editor Ahmed Hafez’s steady pacing and thoughtful, contemplative rhythm allow that audiences feel, react, and think about every insult and unforetold threat to Nawal and by extension Nora. Particularly at junctions: Nawal’s confusion when Adnan’s cell phone keeps ringing, but no one talks, and finding a condom in his wallet; her unwinding disappointment in her brother, friends, and colleague; mutely enduring her employer’s disrespect as an inner rage steadily builds at the unfairness her brother-in-law has forced upon her. Contributing to the film’s aura are Kanamé Onoyama’s camerawork, and the score by Jerry Lane and Andrew Lancaster. When she pushes back, her clever naiveite is empowering. The daring of Nawal’s boldness leaves audiences intrigued, dazzled, and holding their collective breath. Nawal’s future lies in the balance—inshallah (God willing)—the result will be auspicious.

* People in the West shouldn’t feel too smug considering that in the 19th century women were the property of their husbands. In the 20th century a second World War took women out of the kitchens and into factories. Once in the workforce there was no stopping them—not less pay for the same work, sexist remarks/conduct, unfair termination, bullying, etcetera. The 21st century’s inauspicious beginning doesn’t bode well for women unless and until the synergy of advocates of equality and organizations ban together.