Cannes 2023 Review: Amjad Al Rasheed’s “Inshallah a Boy” Looks Towards the Fairer Sex

There’s a mouse scurrying about the kitchen in “Inshallah a Boy,” though Nawal (Mouna Hala) is not one to panic. Her daughter Nora (Celina Rabab’a), who’s a little jumpy, asks if she was ever afraid of anything as a child and she doesn’t even have to think for a second before saying “no,” though as an adult, it’s clear she now has her share after her husband Adnan passes away in his sleep unexpectedly, having to mourn a life when she thought they’d be trying to bring another into the world soon enough. The mouse hardly spooks Nawal, but she couldn’t know she’s let in other vermin when Adnan’s brother Rifqi (Hitham Omari) arrives shortly after the discovery of the mouse, wanting to discuss the debt that Adnan has left behind and the title to the apartment in Jordan that she shares with Nora, paid for in part by her dowry, but listed only in Adnan’s name, giving at least partial rights to his blood relatives as part of an inheritance.

In Amjad Al Rasheed’s crackling drama, family ties have the ability to strangle when Nawal is not only embroiled in a legal battle with Rifqi, who is eager to claim the inheritance and sell his brother’s pickup truck to get out of his own debt, but is privy to the unhappiness amongst the wealthy family she works for as a nurse, seeing that money has hardly bought happiness for any of them as she cares for their matriarch Colette, who is all but catatonic in old age, and lends a compassionate ear to their youngest Lauren (Yumna Marwan), who feels just as paralyzed in a marriage where she knows her husband has been cheating on her. After saying goodbye to Adnan in the film’s opening minutes, husbands are kept offscreen for the most part in “Inshallah a Boy,” but their impact on their wives is startingly vivid, with Nawal having to deal with an even greater amount of stress than her grief and professional life would entail when Adnan’s forgetting to sign some past paperwork puts her in such peril and Lauren becomes deeply distraught after she misses her period, wondering if she’ll have to carry a child she doesn’t want for someone she no longer loves.

It’s notable that even the film’s would-be romantic interest Hassan (Eslam Al-Alwadi), a fellow nurse, expects Nawal to fall in love with him for no other reason than their proximity to each other at work and a cordial relationship over four years, and Al Rasheed, working with co-writers Rula Nasser and Delphine Agut, illustrates throughout how even the most well-meaning suggestions from friends and family come with the assumption that Nawal and Lauren should be deferential to men. There may be no more painful reminder of their place in the world than when Nawal’s hold over Nora, whose custody could be jeopardized if she loses her apartment, depends on the potential of having a son, which even in only a theoretical position controls her fate. However, “Inshallah a Boy” refreshingly never feels as if it’s dealing in hypotheticals, observing the punitive nature of laws not even intended to act as punishment in the direct impact it has on Nawal and Lauren as much as shapes their behavior, though Hala and Marwan, respectively, also display a convincing defiance, perhaps playing the powerless, but contributing to a film that’s undeniably mighty.

“Inshallah A Boy” will screen at the Cannes Film Festival as part of the Semaine de la Critique on May 18th at the Miramar at 5 pm and 10 pm and May 19th at the Miramar at 8:30 am, Studio 13 at 3 pm and Alexandre III at 8:30 pm.

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