Insyriated is not your typical war film. The sound of rockets, aircraft and gunfire can be heard throughout the 90 minutes but only once do we actually see a bullet fired. Director Philippe Van Leeuw’s second film remains inside the home of a middle class Syrian family for its entire duration, trapping the viewer alongside them while they try to survive another day. The story takes place over the course of twenty-four hours at the heart of the conflict in Syria, where one family has barricaded themselves inside their abandoned apartment block, attempting to see out the warfare rather than give up their home.
Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass plays the strong matriarch of the household, Oum Yazan, who refuses to give in to the looming threats slowly drawing closer by the day. She reminds her housemaid, Delhani (Juliette Navis), how she was born on the streets without a roof over her head and will fight tooth and nail before anyone takes this one away from her. Despite the chaos outside she finds sanity in the form of routine, knowing that without it she would lose control of the house to the fear and panic infecting everyone within it.
The increased intensity of the bombing keeps Oum locked inside along with her young son and two daughters, father-in-law, a teenage family friend and neighbours Selim (Moustapha Al Kar) and Halima (Diamand Abou Abboud). Selim has arranged a route out of the country for his wife and newborn that evening and leaves the flat to finalise arrangements. Lying in wait outside is a sniper whose aim leaves Selim lying in a heap in the courtyard. Delhani watches it happen from the balcony and rushes to tell Oum who forbids her from telling Halima. As immoral as it seems, she knows the sniper will shoot down anyone else who attempts to help Selim.
This is the first of two dilemma's Van Leeuw poses to both Oum and the audience. The drama is far from over for Halima who later chooses to make a sacrifice she almost instantly regrets. Diamand Abou Abboud stands up well to the stress placed upon her character with a performance that runs her through an entire gamut of emotions in a short space of time. As terrifying as her situation becomes you can’t help but feel it’s being laid on a little too heavily for Halima, piling on horror after horror to further illustrate Van Leeuw’s fatalistic point of view.
Van Leeuw closely weds his camera to the movements of the seven people with the drama unfolding from room to room. Shifting from one to the other lays out the geography of an apartment that at first seems spacious but rapidly becomes compressed by the growing unease. The experience of an actress like Hiam Abbass adds weight to an uncompromising and fearless character who won’t be cowed by her circumstances. Yet underneath we can see the cracks beginning to show once it dawns on her that the stoic resilience that has seen her endure so much in her life will not be enough to see out this particular battle.
The curtains remain closed and the wooden bars on the inside of the door there to protect the home from marauding looters are probably having the opposite effect. The world for these people continues to feel smaller by the hour, and Van Leeuw’s observant drama brings us a view of the fragile nature of survival in the middle of a raging conflict. The setting may be intimate but the themes at play are life-sized and inescapably relevant to the situation in the country right now.