If you’ve been following the buzz from recent film festivals, you may have heard excited chatter about Jordanian director Amjad Al Rasheed’s acclaimed debut drama, Inshallah a Boy. After premiering to a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, this timely film has continued winning over audiences and gathering acclaim across the global festival circuit.
Centered on a captivating performance by Palestinian actress Mouna Hawa, Inshallah a Boy tells the story of Nawal, a young widow struggling against religious laws and long-held customs that threaten to strip her of basic rights after the sudden death of her husband. Set in the bustling capital of Amman, Jordan, the film follows Nawal over a pressure-cooker three weeks as she fiercely fights to retain guardianship of her daughter and ownership of their humble apartment.
With Jordan selecting it as their official entry for the Academy Awards Best International Feature category, Inshallah a Boy promises to extend its reach beyond the arthouse crowd. Festival reactions so far suggest Al Rasheed has crafted an emotional and ethnically resonant crowd-pleaser that sheds light on pressing social issues. Early reviews praise the film’s unique hybrid format, merging taut, suspenseful storytelling with stark messages about the legal and societal hurdles facing women in the Arab world.
As Nawal pushes back against all efforts to intimidate and exploit her, Al Rasheed invites audiences along for a humane, revealing journey exposed ingrained inequities. With his confident directorial debut, this emerging filmmaker establishes himself as a fresh voice willing to take on institutionalized misogyny through grassroots filmmaking.
Widowhood Leaves Nawal Battling Unjust Laws to Keep Her Home
After the untimely death of her husband Adnan, Nawal faces an unimaginable personal tragedy as a now-single mother struggling to support her young daughter Nora. But the financial and emotional turmoil of her grief soon pales compared to the legal tempest gathering around her. Due to Jordan’s patriarchal inheritance laws, Nawal’s status as a childless widow leaves her utterly powerless against her brother-in-law Rifqi’s determination to strip away her home and possessions.
With Adnan gone, Rifqi comes knocking to claim debts owed for Adnan’s truck along with a portion of the family apartment. He bullishly asserts religious customs entitle male relatives to a share of the deceased man’s property. Never mind that Nawal’s own dowry helped pay for the humble flat she and Nora call home. And even as the family’s sole breadwinner now, Jordanian law prevents Nawal from actually inheriting or controlling marital assets without a son.
As a personal support worker, Nawal earns a modest living that cannot cover her suddenly steep debts. But her predicament turns truly desperate when it comes to light that Adnan failed to sign ownership papers proving Nawal’s stake in their apartment. With this legal loophole, Rifqi argues he has rights not only to the truck and flat but also guardianship of Nora herself.
Left defenseless by the law of the land, Nawal resorts to subterfuge to buy precious time. Despite religious custom calling for a grieving period, she continues secretly working against her employer’s rules. And as Rifqi’s threats mount, Nawal makes her boldest move by falsely claiming pregnancy with a boy. This fictional baby boy offers a temporary shield preventing the court from stripping away all she holds dear.
Of course, Nawal’s problems are just beginning. Maintaining this risky charade over three tense weeks won’t be easy, especially under the watchful eyes of skeptical family and community members. As she fights to protect her daughter’s future, Nawal must walk an impossibly thin wire between Jordanian cultural norms and her own moral compass. Dire circumstances force this bereaved mother into a corner, compelling her to challenge unjust traditions dictating a woman’s place.
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Outdated Laws and Customs Trap Jordanian Women
Even before Rifqi’s aggressive moves, Nawal faces limits on her personal and financial freedoms due to Jordan’s legal framework steeped in dated interpretations of Sharia law. Her battles expose how the system disregards and disempowers women regardless of background or belief. Despite having an education and career, Nawal’s autonomy hinges on her association with a man rather than any inherent rights.
The film highlights various female characters also struggling to claim authority over their lives. Wealth cannot shield Nawal’s employer Souad from losing her fortune if her unseen husband passes. Souad’s daughter Lauren, for all her modern attitudes, depends on family money and status. After an affair, Lauren risks losing her child if she divorces.
Most disturbingly, Rifqi believes justified in uprooting Nawal’s entire life over minor debts and technical documents. He adamantly insists no woman or child should control “his brother’s” property without a male beneficiary. Even Nawal’s sympathetic brother Ahmad grows impatient when she defies social expectations for widows.
Straddling generational shifts in attitude, Nawal outwardly complies with mourning rituals and female modesty norms while inwardly rejecting their premise. Through contrasting choices, the film asks audiences whether cultural tradition and faith inherently undermine women. Or does the true problem lie in how men exploit them to deny female autonomy? Either way, Nawal’s struggles reveal how Jordan’s patriarchal legal system enforces gender inequality on multiple fronts.
With sensitivity and conviction, Inshallah A Boy gives human face to debates over women’s rights in Arab nations. More broadly, Nawal’s spirited defiance despite daunting adversity serves as a quietly revolutionary call for the laws and customs of any land to evolve when they rob citizens of equality, agency and human dignity.
Mouna Hawa Delivers a Complex, Compelling Lead Performance
While Al Rasheed crafts an urgent vision, Palestinian actress Mouna Hawa brings Nawal vividly and sympathetically to life with a powerhouse turn at the story’s core. Navigating tangled layers of loss, yearning and defiance, her subtly nuanced performance remains compelling even as Nawal makes imperfect or questionable choices under tremendous strain.
In lesser hands, this put-upon protagonist could easily turn saintly, shrill or victimized. Yet Hawa locates the emotional honesty in each complex scene through looks and gestures as meaningful as the scripted dialogue. We see Nawal grieving her husband even while furious over his betrayals that left her legally vulnerable. Hawa captures the progression from meekness to exhausted outrage as Nawal faces unjust new troubles daily. And she makes us invested in Nawal’s welfare even as the character pursues morally ambiguous methods for survival.
Through lingering close-ups, Hawa externalizes the churning calculations behind Nawal’s watchful eyes as she weighs protecting her daughter against upending their lives through deception. The tension between timeworn values and evolving attitudes emerges wordlessly in the glimpses Hawa offers of Nawal assessing herself, her loved ones and the stifling society around them. And when words come, Hawa wields fiery conviction during confrontations with Rifqi yet turns tentative confiding fears to her sympathetic employer’s daughter.
Most movingly, in tranquil interludes between the mounting crises, Hawa radiates Nawal’s bone-tired yearning through the way her proud shoulders slump and anxious fingers worry at her hijab. We see a beloved wife and mother forced to find courage and crafty determination she never knew she had simply to hold onto a basic dignified existence. Thanks to Hawa’s deft emotional insight, Nawal earns both our empathy and respect during her penetrating personal plight.
Taut Pacing and Twists Enhance Socially Conscious Thriller
More than just an issue film, Inshallah a Boy utilizes propulsive storytelling economy to provide edge-of-your-seat viewing. Al Rasheed’s background in short films serves him well, with the action structured and shot more like a ticking clock thriller than a realist drama. Even viewers lukewarm on the film’s messages about systemic misogyny may find themselves gripped as circumstances crescendo out of Nawal’s control.
The opening scenes deftly establish the widowed heroine’s already precarious status before events send her life into overdrive. DP Kanamé Onoyama’s restless camerawork maintains urgency once the downward spiral commences. As new threats arise daily from callous laws, vindictive in-laws and Nawal’s own increasingly desperate decisions, scenes take on a breathless, chaotic tone that contrasts the rigid social order being enforced.
Clever twists provide bursts of surprise and irony that elevate the stakes beyond mere financial survival. Lauren’s unplanned pregnancy and post-affair abortion happenstance soon intertwine the women’s fates in an intricate bargain mixing convictions, social taboos and rule-breaking. Later, a sympathetic male ally makes tone-deaf overtures that land Nawal in fresh trouble just as she seemingly secures victory.
Moments of reprieve find Nawal steeling her exhausted spirit in stolen glimpses of the world outside her cloistered existence. But Onoyama keeps the frame tight on Mouna Hawa’s increasingly careworn yet fiercely resolute face. Nawal has no choice but to run this unforgiving gauntlet alone, justice be damned. Though we perceive the loaded odds against her, the film’s propulsive style locks us in — if not outright hope — then anxiety over her fate. More than stirring righteous anger, Inshallah a Boy provides plentiful nail-biting drama.
Final Shot Offers Quiet Inspiration Amid Uncertainty
Rather than definitively resolve matters, Inshallah a Boy concludes with an open-ended final sequence mirroring the film’s ethos. Nawal remains in precarious legal limbo, but walks away with dignity intact and daughter Nora exhibiting new pride. This ambiguous climax leaves the audience cautiously hopeful yet acknowledges wider progress cannot hinge solely on one woman’s acts of quiet resistance.
As the credits roll, Al Rasheed pointedly lingers on a long shot of Nawal maneuvering her late husband’s truck from its cramped parking space. Initially overwhelmed when pressured to drive, she now executes this modest task with calm assurance. Nora looks on beaming, clearly absorbing her mother’s hard-won confidence and unwillingness to be cowed by intimidating challenges.
The layered power of this wordless denouement illustrates Nawal’s personal growth and burgeoning influence without suggesting she conquered the systemic inequities still haunting her. No matter the judgement, she rejects victimhood by reclaiming this symbolic asset. And her steadfast example demonstrated for Nora the importance of fighting for one’s rights even against daunting adversity.
Yet hovering worries remain etched across Mouna Hawa’s beautifully stoic face. Nora may recall her mother’s grit when she comes of age facing similar biases. But can Nawal sustain their situation given the unchanged societal factors against them? Through this lens, Al Rasheed suggests Nawal’s individual empowerment provides inspiration, not resolution. The final scene uplifts our spirits while challenging audiences to carry forth wider calls for progress.
Resonant Storytelling Inspires Wider Advocacy
More than just highlighting one widow’s plight, Inshallah a Boy lends poignant urgency to reforming laws that harm and endanger women across Jordan. By giving such vivid, sympathetic face to realities engrained in the status quo, Al Rasheed makes clear the broader societal ravages from normalizing gender inequality.
Beyond financial penalties or exploitation, the film illuminates cultural effects on family structures when widows and daughters lack safeguards against coercion, abuse, and categorical rights violations. Nawal’s supporter-turned-skeptic brother deteriorates visibly under the feuding’s strain. This suggests even men suffer indirectly from systems denying female independence.
The specificity and compassion that make Nawal’s story so affecting also underscore its relevance to women from all walks of life dealing with state-sanctioned misogyny. Jordan may have its own distinctive religious and judicial framework enabling endemic discrimination. But the film’s core messages around empowerment, fairness, and human dignity resonate cross-culturally.
In this manner, Inshallah A Boy organically fosters solidarity for progression in Jordan and beyond by revealing shared fundamentally human experiences. As Al Rasheed introduces wider audiences to oppressive realities often obscured, his vivid filmmaking makes clear the costs of leaving unjust relics of the past unchallenged. Let’s hope this landmark work helps give reformist voices in Arab nations the courage to envision — and demand — a more equitable future.
A Touching Triumph for Amjad Al Rasheed
From tense legal battles to quiet tiny rebellions, Inshallah A Boy marks the arrival of Amjad Al Rasheed as a consummate filmmaker able to wring suspense and pathos from the most modest real-world conflicts. Bolstered by Mouna Hawa’s stirring lead performance, the movie distills one widow’s quandary into a powerful microcosm highlighting society’s responsibility to support, not suppress, female agency.
Blending emotional intimacy with propulsive story beats, Al Rasheed excels equally at small moments and big picture messaging. He constructs elaborate narrative dominoes only to watch benevolently as his compelling protagonist navigates unforeseen complexities of morality measured out by the gram. Free of him sermonizing or demonizing, the film assembles a mosaic of choice and consequence that ultimately empowers the audience to question assumptions on their own terms.
Some might dismiss the story threads as overly convenient or pat. But coincidences pile up constantly in real lives limited by laws tipped against them. By the elegant final shot, the director leaves us not with answers but the self-reflection to keep examining difficult intersections of justice, faith and gender dynamics. Both sweeping and specific, Inshallah A Boy heralds an insightful cinematic curator of human experience comfortable working on multiple levels. And for spotlighting the all-too-silent struggles of women worldwide, Al Rasheed deserves all the acclaim coming his way.
Inshallah a Boy
Tackling resonant themes with equal parts heart and smarts, Amjad Al Rasheed's suspenseful yet thoughtful Inshallah a Boy announces a compelling new directorial voice. Bolstered by Mouna Hawa's outstanding central performance, this courageous film sheds light on injustices facing Jordanian women while never losing sight of relatable human connections that earn our empathy. Balancing grim realities against glimmers of hope, Rasheed has crafted both a crowd-pleaser and a conversation starter.
- Powerful lead performance by Mouna Hawa
- Unique hybrid format blending suspense and social commentary
- Timely themes related to women's rights and legal inequities
- Confident direction in Amjad Al Rasheed's debut
- Emotionally resonant ending sequence
- Some occasionally contrived plot points
- Pacing drags slightly in second act
- Could benefit from more nuanced perspectives on religious questions
- Doesn't fully resolve main conflict