Inshallah A Boy (2023): Film Review

Vassilis Kroustallis reviews the Jordanian feature 'Inshallah A Boy' by Amjad Al Rasheed.

In Jordan, a widowed woman without a son needs to share her husband's fortune with his family. This is the single thing and theme that spins the wheels of the adroit female empowerment drama by feature newcomer Amjad Al Rasheed (and the first Jordanian feature to grace Cannes Film Festival). His main character Nawal (Mouna Hawal, in a capable contemporary portrait of a woman in need) suddenly gets widowed -leaving her with a young daughter to take care of, and debts from her late husband. The debts are owed to his brother Rifqi (Haitham Omari), very eager to help in the mourning and very prominent to raise the matter of payment -invoking his own worries.

Nawal, who works as a nurse in the Christian (but also conservative) environment of Lauren (Yumna Marwan) and her mother, needs to make ends meet. Her potential love interest, the physiotherapist and colleague Hassan (Eslam Al-Awadi) still looks like a very distant possibility for Nawal; she will soon have to face one obstacle after the other. The debts from the pickup truck (which she will refuse to sell) and the new situation of needing to sell her own apartment in order for every legal inheritor (including Rifki and his family) to be satisfied will leave her exhausted but still determined.

Amjad Al Rasheed builds up his narrative within the extremes of God-given abandonment to the worst and fierce determination to follow a rather unknown path. He carefully frames the two women, Nawal and Lauren, as both similar and different; class here seems to subside in terms of female solidarity in a deeply patriarchal male society. Both women will need to confront motherhood in completely different ways; and while Nawal starts entertaining the idea of a fake pregnancy, Lauren needs to handle a very real case from a deeply abusive husband.

Yet the social tableau of 'Inshallah A Boy' always moves the way Nawal herself moves; from her room to the streets to her various legal appointments to Lauren's house. This is a small Odyssey handled with a steady directing hand, and camera movements that start from contemplation (the initial tracking shot that ends up with Nawal's bra falling out from her window out on the road, to be picked up by a young man) to energetic movements, the way Nawal herself needs to adapt to the shifting ground beneath her feet.

This is a tense but not claustrophobic drama, leaving room for all secondary characters to develop. Their small attacks (either in a friendly or a downright rude manner) are here confronted and responded to equally by the main character, and nowhere in the film do we get the feeling of hopelessness.

On the other hand, the too many pitfalls reserved for Nawal make her more emotionally aloof. The film sometimes almost downright refuses in essence  Nawal the possibility of a healthier personal relationship -for the fear of making her another man's surrogate. And Hassan himself with his angelic qualities rings too cool to be true.

Both production design is refreshingly contemporary, and the lighting is as smooth (and not harsh) as ever; performances are overall capable, and the ironic 'Deus ex Machina ending is a testament to the unpredictability of life itself.

More of a chronicle of a woman in need than a downright social manifesto (think of Diahann Carroll's 1975 'Claudine' by John Berry), 'Inshallah A Boy', plays like a game of decreasing possibilities and increasing obstacles to asserting right over prejudice and just blind chance. It supports admirably its cause all along and gets us a fresh, insider view of a woman who definitely needs to vigorously assert herself at all costs.

Vassilis Kroustallis

'Inshallah A Boy' had its world premiere at the Critics' Week, Cannes Film Festival 2023.