Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Insyriated: EIFF Review

I review Philippe Van Leeuw's real-life thriller, set in a number of Damascus apartments under siege!

Insyriated is as devastating as a bomb attack. It’s a film that questions the impact of war on the domestic sphere, where the fringes of conflict drift too close to home. It’s a film that ponders the primal impulses of human beings when society dissipates in front of them. And it’s a film that explores the mechanics of survival. But most of all. It’s a film about life: love, friendship, and belonging in a world that’s rapidly changing beyond recognition.

Diamand Bou Abboud stars as Halima, a young woman living in a barricaded apartment complex in Damascus with her baby son and husband Salim (Moustapha Al Kar). Insyriated takes place over a single day, on a single floor across a handful of rooms. It begins with the shooting of Salim in the street – seen by Oum Yazan (Hiam Abbass), the owner of the apartment, and her maid Delhani (Juliette Navis). And it ends with the arrival of Oum’s husband. What happens in-between often straddles the line between life and death, and that between cruelty and courage. It suffices to say that those barricades don’t hold up for much longer, and the terror of conflict creeps in.

At times, it seems as if Insyriated might be veering off-track: losing focus, becoming overly melodramatic, seeming to run out of ideas. But always, straight after these sentiments appear, Philippe Van Leeuw follows-up with an absolute gut-punch of a scene – reining in the schmaltz, and reminding the audience time and time again that these characters are being pushed to their brink. One particularly harrowing scene left me wondering whether this was a repeat occurrence for the weathered residents; the thought has incendiary implications for one’s perception of families in war-stricken countries. Throughout, dialogue exchanges and action sequences are incredibly tense – aided by claustrophobic cinematography courtesy of Virginie Surdej.

There is, eventually, a staged debate to be had over the decision paths of the characters. Oum, for one, tends towards protecting the residents of her apartment in a utilitarian fashion; which, perhaps, the others might not agree with. However, I don’t really feel that this moral dilemma takes pride of place in a tense drama with a distinctly modern feel. Instead, wisely, the focus is placed on the more human emotional response to the plot events, and the minute family dynamics that translate from our usual Western everyday to war-torn Syria without much need for explanation.

Much of the staying power of Insyriated comes down to its believability. For all its sensational content, never once does it break the boundaries of the highly plausible (one might even say highly likely). In war-torn cities the world over, families try to stay alive and maintain some semblance of normality as the fire of conflict rages on around them. The goings-on inside this particular building in Damascus feel like they could genuinely constitute a nightmarish day for a real family. And that, whilst watching a film with such visceral content, is a truly mobilising thought.

Insyriated is, without a doubt, a great film. Despite it’s occasional tendency to drop pace or slip into melodramatic schmutz, Van Leeuw orchestrates a timely, tense, and at times harrowing drama that illustrates family life in extraordinary circumstances. It’s a piece that’s challenging, morally dubious, and open-ended; but it displays the resilience, hardship, and humanity of a people under siege.
Insyriated gets 4 stars!

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