Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: Philippe Van Leeuw
Cast: Hiam Abbass, Diamand Abou Abboud and Juliette Navis
(Edinburgh International Film Festival Screening)
A mother attempts to keep her family safe as war rages and a sniper lies in wait outside her home. This nerve-wracking study of life in Damascus won an Audience Award at Berlinale.
Written and directed by Belgian cinematographer-turned-director Philippe Van Leeuw, Insyriated is a gripping war melodrama which plays out in one day in one spacious middle-class apartment in Damascus, Syria.
The film focuses on two determined women: Oum Yazam (a formidable Hiam Abbass), mother of three and head of the family waiting for her husband to come home from the war zone, and Halima (an equally superb Diamand Bou Abboud), a neighbour from an upstairs bombarded flat whose husband, as we see at the start of Insyriated, is shot by a sniper.
Unaware of this Halima cares for their baby and prepares for the couple’s escape to Beirut. Delhani, family help, is the witness of this tragedy but is instructed to keep the secret by Oum Yazam who knows Halima would run to her husband’s rescue… this is the scene set for 24 hours of blasting bombs and eerie silence on the outside with 8 people hiding in an apartment in now abandoned block.
Insyriated is carried by the two painfully relatable, beautifully complex characters of Oum Yazam and Halima who – faced with impossible choices and almost unbearable pain – play against each other in the most powerful, utmost soul-crushing scenes of the film. We do not see the violence, only the close ups of its aftermath and its written all over the two women’s faces.
The rare moments of relief and poignancy come from the camera subtly following the family members around the flat, trying to go around their business as usual with quarrels in the bathroom queue or sharing bread and a smile with your grandpa. The war constantly tries to break into the family home though and with the harrowing music and clever editing we never forget it for too long.
Confining his narrative to four walls of an apartment and giving us a set of relatable characters, Philippe Van Leeuw created a world ravaged by war which is a universal world – and that gives it an even bigger punch – and reality for too many.
This haunting portrayal of one family’s fight for survival, with its claustrophobic, tense atmosphere is a memorable redefining of a war film. Its beauty lies with the strong performances of the two female leads who carry this universal story.