Dir.: Amjad Al Rasheed, Cast: Mouna Hawa, Haitam Omari, Yumma Marwan, Salwa Nakkara, Mohammed A Jizawi, Eslam Al-Awadi, Seelena Saltanian; Jordan/France/Saudi Arabia/ Qatar 2023, 112 min.
This debut drama from Amjad Al Rasheed is also the first ever Jordanian feature film to be presented at Cannes, via Marrakech Film Festival‘s Atlas Workshop 2022.
Inshallah a Boy certainly deserves this honour in showcasing the outrageously misogynist laws that hold sway in many Arab countries: if a widow has no male heir, her deceased husband’s family is by law entitled to half her possessions. Al Rasheed’s tightly-written script makes what could have been a dry and worthy story absolutely gripping throughout its running time. Al Rasheed co-wrote the screenplay with Delphine Agut and Rula Nasser, based on his own original story.
Nawal (Hawa) wakes up one morning to discover her husband has died in his sleep. With her young daughter Nora (Sultanian) Nawal is soon facing the greed of her brother-in-law Rifqi (Omari), who demands 1000 Jordanian Dinar for a pick-up truck he sold to Nawal’s husband, plus a fifty percent share of the family flat, originally bought with her parents’ money.
But there could be a way out of this injustice. And it will come via Lauren (Marwan) the daughter of her Nawal’s boss Mrs Souad (Sakkara), who employs her as part of a team of carers looking after her mother Colette (who is dying of Alzheimer’s). Nawal was the family’s sole breadwinner, her husband having lost his job – without telling her – four months prior to his death. If Nawal can prove she is ‘pregnant’, Rifqi cannot lay his hands on her property, or her daughter, for whom he claims custody, telling the court that Nawal is unable look after the girl. If Lauren can provide Nawal with a forged positive pregnancy test in return for helping her track down an abortionist to get rid of the child (conceived with the husband she no longer loves or lives with) then Nawal can keep her worldly goods.
A complex narrative then, but Al Rasheed handles it with aplomb. There’s another twist to the tale that could complicate matters: Nawal’s colleague Hassan (Al-Awadi) has developed a crush on the widow, but this could work in her favour. Then disaster strikes when Lauren’s husband finds about his wife’s pregnancy and puts his foot down to an abortion. The two women’s inventiveness is then put to the test as they both fight the law and Jordan’s male-dominated patriarchy finally to find peace and contentment.
There is never a dull moment in this frenetic drama, DoP Kaname Onoyama using a lively hand-held camera to follow Nawal who seems to be perpetually on the move in the busy streets of Amman, even trying to learn to drive her dead husband’s truck. The ensemble acting is convincing, with Omari the standout as the scheming villain supported by Nawal’s double-dealing brother, the two no better than rats from the capital’s sewer.
CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | Critics’ Week 2023