In Syria (2017)
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Visually, 'Insyriated' is highly atmospheric and startling. The cinematography keeps the viewer constantly at the heart of the action and gives a large amount of urgency while not going over-the-top. The editing is taut and adds to 'Insyriated's' unsettling nature, as does, and even more so, the sound editing. The lighting is haunting without being too dark. The sets are suitably confined, effectively giving a sense of claustrophobia. Philippe Van Leeuw directs with assurance and control of the subject matter, being more successful as director than as writer.
Parts of the script are tight and provoking. The story is never dull and treats its subject with an unnerving quality that really wrecks the nerves. The horrors, tension and suspense are not dealt with excessively or sledge-hammer-like nor are they sugar-coated or trivialised. Yet it doesn't hold back and takes no prisoners, which was appropriate and throughout there is a clear sense of danger.
The characters seem real and their conflicts easy to identify with every step of the way, even when they make misjudged decisions they also come over as meaning well which stops the viewer from getting frustrated at them. A great cast makes this possible, with the best performances coming from Hiam Abbass, Diamand Abou Abboud and Juliette Navis. The stages of the film where the truth of the events (primarily the shooting) is discovered are particularly well acted.
For all those strengths, there are a couple of shortcomings with 'Insyriated'. While the script is generally tight and thought-provoking, there are times where it lacks nuance and subtlety which would have given the harrowing, hard-edged tone a little more dimension. But it's the score that is the biggest issue, very mawkish and far too low-key in instrumentation which creates a completely out of kilter tone with the atmosphere, when either a more robust, stirring approach was far more suitable, just as effective would have been for the film to have no score.
Overall, very good and almost great which it could easily have been with a little more nuance and a far more appropriate music score. 8/10 Bethany Cox
In an apartment in Damascus, in war-torn Syria, a matriarch is struggling, despite all odds, to keep her family and a neighbouring woman safe.
A Belgian-French-Lebanese co-production, "Insyriated" (2017), written and directed by Belgian cinematographer-turned-writer-director Philippe Van Leeuw, was shot in an apartment building in Beirut, Lebanon. With strong acting performances and well-balanced direction, this gripping drama is a feat of shattering realism.
The film is set almost entirely in an apartment, where an extended family of nine tries to survive the war. The neighbourhood is constantly bombed, snipers are roaming the streets, there is no running water and no cell phone coverage. The front door of the apartment is barricaded. The rest of the building has been abandoned, left to looters and rapists.
In these circumstances, the family tries to live life as normal as possibly. During air raids, the teenage daughters listen to music on their smartphone, one earbud for each, as teenagers do. The grandfather quietly smokes his cigarettes and hugs his grandson. In the morning, family members quarrel about who can use the bathroom.
But the war is everywhere. There is no escape from it. The film shows how the lives of the family members are increasingly being dominated by fear, despair and anger. These human emotions are far more powerful to show the effects of war than even the most intense battlefield scene.
The decision to film everything within one apartment is a masterstroke. It creates a claustrophobic tension, and it helps the viewer to identify with the family members. Of course, this only works with a superb cast. The two powerful female leads stand out in particular. The mother, played by Arab-Israeli actress Hiam Abass, is great in hiding her true emotions and suppressing her fear to prevent unsettling her children. When she breaks down, at last, the impact is devastating. But the Lebanese actress Diamand Bou Abboud is no less impressive as the upstairs neighbour who has fled to the apartment with her baby, after her own apartment has been bombed.
One of the great things about the film is also that it doesn't spell out the war. In fact, nothing is being explained. We don't know who is fighting whom, or why. It doesn't matter. War is ugly anyhow. Apart from the title, there is even no indication that it takes place in Syria. It is a universal story.
Apart from being an emotional punch in the stomach, the film contains a lot of suspense. The script is very clever. Already in the first few minutes, a terrible incident creates a heart breaking dilemma for some family members. During the rest of the film, some other high-impact events make you sit on the edge of your chair.
'Insyriated' is definitively one of the best films I've seen this year. Maybe even the best. It would make a great candidate for the foreign language Oscars. What a pity that the producing countries, France and Belgium, have chosen other films. Neither one can even stand in the shadow of 'Insyriated'.