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Ciné Sunday: Insyriated

Philippe Van Leeuw

Awarded the Europa Cinemas Label Prize at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Philippe Van Leeuw’s feature Insyriated was praised not only for its masterful storytelling and the mesmerising performance by veteran actress Hiam Abbass, but most of all because it captures the brutal reality of living in a war zone.

"...captures the brutal reality of living in a war zone."

Set entirely within the confines of a Damascus apartment over the course of a single day, Insyriated centres on one middle class family, who are unable to leave their home because it is surrounded by danger, either from bombs, snipers or menacing outsiders taking advantage of the lawless situation. Matriarch Oum Yazan (Abbass) tries to maintain some kind of normalcy for the other occupants which include her elderly father-in-law (Mohsen Abbas), her son and two daughters, and loyal domestic help Delhani (Juliette Navis). Also present is neighbour Halima (Diamand Bou Abboud), a young mother with a child who is waiting to join her husband Samir and escape to Beirut. Domestic tasks like cooking, bathing and school work still take place but are brutally interrupted throughout the day by mortar attacks and visits from sinister men claiming to represent security forces. Everyone is on edge, but for Delhani and Oum, who are hiding a terrible secret from the others about Samir, the tension is almost unbearable.

Abbass is masterful as the stern and dignified Oum, who refuses to show any weakness or to give up her beloved home. The rest of the ensemble cast (largely made up of Syrian refugees) are superb, as is the sound design and long-take camera work. Claustrophobic and tense, Insyriated is an important reminder of the kind of unimaginable courage which is a day-to-day necessity for many of our fellow human beings.