Insyriated (15)
★★★★☆

THIS intense and timely film from Belgian-born writer-director Philippe Van Leeuw (The Day God Walked Away) explores the reality of day-to-day living for a family within the Syrian capital of Damascus during what seems like never-ending warfare happening right outside their home.

The entire thing takes place over the course of a single day and almost entirely within the claustrophobic confines of a flat where Oum Yazan (Hiam Abbas) and her extended family reside in an otherwise abandoned building.

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The starting pistol for the immediacy and internal conflict of the drama is when the father to the newborn daughter of Halima (Diamand Bou Abboud), one of the apartment’s occupants, leaves and is gunned down by a sniper. The maid Delhani (Juliette Navis) witnesses this but is told to keep it a secret lest they risk being targeted next. While the singular setting lends the film a certain kind of stage play aesthetic it nevertheless allows us to get uncomfortably up close and personal with the lives of these people, what they’re going through and how it affects them in different ways, helped by wholly believable performances from an excellent ensemble cast.

Leeuw builds up tension incredibly well and makes the mounting ordeals feel painfully authentic, showcasing some truly startling imagery of everyday life in a war zone. He utilises Jean-Luc Fafchamps’ melancholic score in sparse but effective bursts and throws up some unavoidable and universally relatable moral quandaries for the viewer, not least would you lend a hand to a neighbour in need if it meant compromising the safety of your own family?

It’s harrowing in its own right to witness how the reality of war is merely a hallmark of day-to-day living, the noise of gunfire and explosions constantly in the background as the characters deal with domestic squabbles and the annoyance of living on top of one another; one bathroom, limited water supply for washing, very little sleeping space and huddling together in the kitchen whenever things get particularly bad outside.

The film morphs part way through into something of a home invasion thriller where sexual threat takes precedence over the gunfire outside as male predators who have been prowling the abandoned apartments, periodically knocking on the family’s heavily barricaded door, attack one of the residents as the rest of the family are locked in the next room. It’s a potentially exploitative narrative move but the film handles the controversial turn of events with graceful tact while at the same time not cowering away from dealing with it head on, adding a further layer of raw and unsettling realism to an already uncompromising and harrowing vision. The film adds a potent voice to the pertinent choir of cinema exploring war-battered life in the Middle East.