Inshallah a Boy (Kino Lorber, NR)

Nawal (Mouna Hawa) is a young woman living a fairly ordinary life in Jordan. She’s married to Ahmad (Mohammad Al Jizawi), has a beautiful young daughter named Nora (Seleena Rababah) who is the light of her life, and works as a care provider for an elderly woman while her husband works for a printing shop. They live in an apartment that is adequate but not fancy, and a kindly neighbor takes care of Nora after school until Nawal can pick her up.

Then one morning Ahmad doesn’t wake up and Nawal’s life is turned upside down. While mourning her husband she must also deal with the loss of his income and try to make her way through a legal and cultural system stacked against her. Ahmad’s brother Rifqui (Haitham Omari) initially appears to be supportive, declaring that they are family and that he’ll help Nawal in any way he can. It doesn’t take long for that attitude to wear off, however, and soon Rifqi is back demanding money he says Ahmad owed him for truck payments. Then he claims the right to take possession of the apartment in which Nawal and Nora live, and he’s not just talking through his hat: because Nawal has no male children, the brother of her deceased husband takes priority over her in terms of inheritance under Jordanian law.

Nawal, who paid for part of the apartment with her dowry, refuses to yield to Rifqi’s demands, which he finds first surprising, then annoying, as if he can’t believe a mere woman would dare to defy him. He may be a jerk, but the point here is not to condemn this one character but to see him as a living manifestation of the favoritism granted to men by Jordan’s legal system. To take the apartment is his right, and while he could be more generous than the law requires, times are tough and he has bills to pay, don’t you know? Even Nawal’s brother eventually takes Rifqui’s side, and the fact that Nawal might lose custody of Nora seems to make no impression on him.

As Nawal explores her options, she learns a few things about her deceased husband, including that he hadn’t worked for some time before his death and that he never signed the paperwork acknowledging that Nawal was part owner of their apartment. It’s a bit heavy-handed, but establishes Nawal as a real melodramatic heroine who has been lied to and deceived by even the most important man in her life, and there’s nothing she can do about it.

The title of Amjad Al-Rasheed’s Inshallah a Boy refers to Nawal’s last desperate ploy to maintain possession of her home and custody of her daughter: she claims she is pregnant and, since the child might be a boy, this gives her grounds to put off her eviction at least until the birth. Of course Rifqui demands a pregnancy test, but Nawal manages with the help of a ruse involving the married daughter (Lauren, played by Yumna Marwan) of her employer. While Lauren initially appears to be something of a spoiled brat, it turns out that she only person in Nawal’s world willing to offer her any real help. That might be because, despite her privileged background, Lauren is trapped in a bad marriage and understands how tough it can be to be female in Jordan when your life doesn’t conform to official expectations.

There’s a whole lot of stories going on in Inshallah a Boy, with screenplay by Al-Rasheed, Delphine Agut, and Rula Nasser, including a romantic subplot that could easily have been left out, but the film’s real focus is on Nawal and how, despite being greeted by new obstacles at every turn, she remains determined to claim a life for herself and her daughter. Mouna Hawa’s performance holds this film together, and if there were any justice in the world, she’d be nominated for an Oscar this spring (this film is Jordan’s nominee for Best International Feature film this year). | Sarah Boslaugh

Inshallah a Boy is distributed on DVD by Kino Lorber. There are no extras on the disc.

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