The civil war in Syria is the most brutal conflict raging today, so much so it has dominated headlines across the World for the last few years. Such is the disregard for human life, Snipers are paid $100 if they kill a man, $60 for a woman, and $40 for a child. Its all a fun game to some.
As events continue to dominate the world stage, there have been a number of films about the conflict, including the documentary Oscar winning short The White Helmets and 2017 Oscar favourite City of Ghosts both of which focus on those actively participating in the war, be it fighting or otherwise. Taking place over the course of 24 hours, Insyriated (questionable name) decides to focus on a middle class Syrian family simply trying to survive in a besieged Damascus.
The film opens with the camera panning across the apartment we are about to spend almost the whole ninety minutes in. The door is boarded up to ensure nobody gets in and an old man sits in front a large bookcase without a book in hand - suggesting that war destroys everything, even culture, regarding it moot. Without telling us anything, the camera shows the people inside the house and their relationship with one another. We are introduced to this seemingly normal household, one that could be found anywhere in the world but just so happens to be caught in a middle of a bloody civil war.
It’s important that we follow an average Syrian family because it gives us an insight into the lives of the Syrian people. Oum Yazan (a superb Hiam Abbass) tries desperately to keep things normal by having her children do various chores around the house but any mundaneness is quickly shattered by a nearby explosion or forced entry. Oum Yazan is a difficult character to warm too, she’s shrill and shouty and her strict, controlling personality makes one wish she took a much softer approach, but it becomes apparent that she is just simply trying to keep her deeply loved family alive.
Insyriated is traumatic film about traumatic times, the film’s most brutal sequence is sensitively and appropriately handled as the camera chooses to show the pain etched on the victim’s face rather than the attacker’s pleasure. Interestingly for a western production (it’s a French-Belgium production) the film hardly focuses on the religious beliefs of the family, a complete contrast to how one would expect a Hollywood production to depict them. This normalises the family highlighting how they are a family who could be found in any city in the World.
While Philippe Van Leeuw mistakenly tries to install some needless melodrama (there's a small hint of a love triangle, or square), he expertly draws up an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia in this spacious apartment. Whatever the size if one is trapped inside in a building, its difficult not feel claustrophobic and that the walls are closing in on you.
Insyriated is a powerful, tense film, and the way the camera glides through the house gives the film a touch of quality to.