Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

(Written by Intern, Wyatt Frantz)

The most provocative social narratives immerse its audience in issues that can be seen from the ground up. Through its strong characterization and grass roots focus, Inshallah a Boy wisely reveals how the muscle of patriarchal societies can take a firm hold over one’s agency.

That burden is rested upon Nawal (Mouna Hawa), a caretaker who works from morning to night to take care of her daughter, Nora (Celina Rabab’a), and pay the bills. Their small apartment and beloved pickup are all they have to their name, only to be thrown into jeopardy when Nora’s husband suddenly passes in his sleep. Given no time to grieve, her brother-in-law, Rifqui (Hitham Omari), pressures her to hand over unpaid installments on the pickup that she is unable to cover. Arguing that there is no proof of her financial contributions, he suggests selling her assets and moving in with him. One confrontation after another, Nora says no, refusing to break her independent principles. Rifqui is quick to take legal action, and oversteps boundaries to take advantage of Nora. Out of all other options, Nora must provide proof of a false pregnancy, the potential of a male child, in order to stay one step ahead of Rifqui.

The margins only get thinner as she struggles to evade homelessness, raise her daughter, and help her employer’s daughter get an abortion on top of it all. Slowly pacing itself at first and accelerating into a spiral of insubordination, Inshallah a Boy stands out in its lack of melodrama and reasonable depiction of Nora’s trapped state of mind. Each scene stays close to Nora’s resilience, bearing them with significant weight and forcing viewers to roll with one punch after another when things get ugly. 

Navigating through a tight-knit urban Jordan, claustrophobic bedrooms, doctors offices, and workspaces ingrain a subconscious feeling of a roof caving in around the world of our protagonist. Choice of setting is not the only contributing element to the stream of bleak tension, as Nora interacts with a handful of ordinary, yet astoundingly metaphorical symbols. A mouse in the house, end-of-life care, and a modest pick up truck all weave into a feeling of an oncoming calamity. Mouna Hawa’s gentle, yet intentional reactions to the world around her attribute themselves to Nora’s unwavering perseverance when all odds are against her. Superb writing aside, I am only left unsatisfied by how quickly the ending hits the brakes, in a lack of complete resolve that hinders what more of Nora’s perspective is offered.

Taking a critical stance on Middle Eastern customs, the powerful tale of defiance serves to make viewers conscious of how power-driven systems can trample one’s growth and fulfillment. A dense, organic portrait of womanhood that will peel anyone to the screen from start to finish, this is one to look out for in future film discussion and award recognition.

Get in on the mix of maternal madness when Inshallah a Boy screens at the Toronto International Film Festival on Tuesday, September 12th.

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