The perils of single parenthood in the patriarchy are piercingly punctured in Inshallah, A Boy (Amjad Al Rasheed, 2023), a tight, tense, thriller set in Amman, Jordan. Employing simple, yet effective dramaturgy, its social realist set-up allows for fierce criticism of the country’s male-first inheritance culture.
The excellent Mouna Hawa stars as Nawal, wife to Ahmad (Mohammad Al Jizawi), and mother to Nora (Celina Rabab’a). In the film’s first shot, a slow pan from the bustling city streets to her apartment window, where she is trying in vain to fish a dried bra off a clothesline, all the while wearing a headscarf, slyly sets up the central conflict of female sexuality and autonomy in a heavily masculine world. She is trying for a baby, nagging her husband, but he’s too tired. He’s actually very tired. He dies the next day.
No sooner has the mourning period commenced do her husband’s troubles threaten to overwhelm her financially. In an excellent evocation of social awkwardness hiding self-interest, her brothers-in-law pay her a little visit. The more odious of the two, Rifqi (a brilliantly self-centered Hitham Omari), may hate to bring it up, but Ahmad actually owes him some money for a pickup truck. And then there’s the question of inheritance. Jordanian law means that inheritance is left to men, putting women in a tricky spot. As Nawal doesn’t have a son, the apartment could be given to Amman’s brothers and sisters instead. Tough.
While the movie, careful to explain every detail of the matter at hand, takes a fairly long while in finding a solution to the problem, its final execution is on point. Amjad Al Rasheed, with his debut feature, works from the social realist playbook — borrowing a little from Asghar Farhadi in the way he mines rich conflict from Islamic mores. Yet he finds his own identity in the smart and subtle mise-en-scène, using an uneasy handheld camera to envelop us into Nawal’s headspace, as well as using long, uncomplicated takes to enhance the gravity of more complicated situations.
It seems that the law, unfairly punishing women for the sins of their husbands, doesn’t seem fit for purpose, especially as it allows bad actors, such as Rifqi, to take advantage of the situation. The good news is that the Royal Jordanian Film Fund, which appears to have sponsored the film, seemingly back the viewpoints of filmmakers who want to make a change. The challenge for the team now is to get it seen not just in festivals such as Cannes, where everyone is prone to nod and agree and move on to the next movie, but in communities actually affected by the law. Perhaps this film can change the conversation.