Venice’s Final Cut Winner Talks ‘Inshallah a Boy’: ‘We Want to Address the Taboos, But Be Smart About It’

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Amjad Al Rasheed’s feature debut “Inshallah a Boy” – co-produced by Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – was awarded La Biennale di Venezia Prize at Final Cut, an industry program at the Venice Film Festival dedicated to films from African and Arab countries.

Shot in February, with mostly Jordanian crew, it was lensed by Kanamé Onoyama.

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In the story, a mother and a housewife – played by Mouna Hawa, known for “In Between” – has to face the sudden death of her husband. According to the inheritance law, his family is entitled to most of her belongings, including the home she paid for herself – just because she doesn’t have a son. Desperate, she pretends to be pregnant.

“So many people ask us: ‘Is this real? Do you really have this law?!’ It’s inspired by the experience of someone I know, someone close to me. But when we started to develop the story, we were surprised to find out how common this practice is,” says the Jordanian helmer.

“Then again, our gaffer decided to change his will after working on the film, making sure all his kids are protected now. No matter their gender.”

Despite his Venice success, Al Rasheed is already thinking about reaching his local audience as well, he tells Variety. Hoping to initiate a discussion without immediately alienating conservative viewers, even though the film’s subject matter can raise some eyebrows.

“Very often, they just reject new films, saying: ‘This isn’t us. We don’t have affairs, boys and girls don’t kiss and we don’t know any gay people.’ We want to address the taboos, but be smart about it as well,” he observes.

“This is the problem: people don’t want to see their society portrayed in a ‘bad’ light. Instead, we pretend we are perfect. One of our Final Cut jurors told me we might find ourselves under fire, but we just want to engage our viewers,” adds Rula Nasser of The Imaginarium Films, who produces with Aseel Abu Ayyash.

Nasser is also behind “Amira,” about a Palestinian girl who learns that her real father was an Israeli prison guard, ultimately withdrawn by Jordan from the Oscar race. Omar El Zohairy’s festival hit “Feathers” and Netflix’s first Arabic original film “Perfect Strangers” also sparked controversy. But Al Rasheed is counting on his film’s “human story” and its sympathetic lead to win over the critics.

“When I first saw her, I realized that Mouna looks just like the woman I had in my mind. She is real; she looks like the women you know and care for. Also, I wanted her to look natural – we had a fight with our makeup artist over the concealer,” he jokes.

“There are so many stories to be told from where we come from. But when you are dealing with conservative societies, the question is this: ‘Are you brave enough to go really deep?,” notes Nasser.

“A lot of work went into making sure she can be loveable, even though she is challenging all these taboos. We showed the script to several people, asking: ‘Do you like her?’ We didn’t want our audience to reject her right from the start.”

This applies to both her and the film’s “villains,” as Al Rasheed wanted to show his characters’ good and bad sides in the film. Trying to listen to both sides of the conflict.

“I think we are trying to follow this tradition [of social cinema]. If you think of someone like Ken Loach, he wants to make an impact – so do we. We want to raise awareness, show women how to take care of themselves and their kids,” adds Nasser.

“We are not making this film for money. We did it for love.”

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