The story centres on Oum Yazan, a mother doing her best to keep the motley crew in her barricaded apartment safe until her husband returns with some aid. Crammed into the apartment along with her family – three children and her father-in-law – are her maid, her daughter's boyfriend, and her neighbours who have been bombed out of their upstairs apartment – a young married couple, Selim and Halima, with their newborn child.
Oum Yazan is played by Hiam Abbass who expertly portrays the quiet desperation of this mother, struggling to maintain control and a semblance of normality in her home. When the maid witnesses Halima’s husband get shot in the apartment block courtyard in the morning, she is ordered by Oum Yazan to keep it a secret. This spreads like a stain throughout the film and is a constant source of tension.
But this is not the only way the outside world gains ground on their sanctuary. Apart from the occasional earth-shattering bomb raids, there are bandits roaming the almost deserted building in search of valuables. After a couple of civil attempts, they force their way into the apartment. Everyone shelters in the utility room apart from Halima – played brilliantly by Diamand Bou Abboud – who resolves to face the two men alone.
It is at this point that the film poses a sort of moral question. Should Oum Yazan open the door and rescue Halima, potentially putting the whole family at risk, or not? Coming at the central point in the film, you sense van Leeuw would like it to pivot on this dilemma. But it is not really subtle enough, either as a question or in its execution, to warrant this attention.
And neither should it. This film’s strength is in its focus on the exhausting mundanity of living in Syria; the mundanity of survival. We need drama, yes, and drama thrives on conflict but often the theatre of war – even, or particularly, for those trapped in the wings – is enough. Given the tight ensemble cast and the corresponding close cramped camera work, it would be so easy to talk of claustrophobia, but that’s not the experience this film offers. There is a more challenging sense of expansion and contraction, hope and worry.
By the end of Insyriated, you start to realise what the characters already know: these events could play out all over again tomorrow. ‘The war will soon be over’ and ‘The war is here to stay’, Yazan maintains in the space of three minutes. It is this sense of being bandied back and forth within four walls – is there an echo of ‘incarcerated’ in the title? – that the film most effectively conveys.
All of the above might seem a bit predictable. It is not news and, indeed, is no longer on the news that life in Syria is bleak. However, Insyriated suggests that that fact is easier said than truly understood.
|What||Insyriated film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
On 08 Sep 17, TIMES VARY
|Price||£ determined by cinema|