A totally persuasive account of daily life that has become a nightmare.



Back in 2012 the Afghan filmmaker Atiq Rahimi gave us a memorable work entitled The Patience Stone. It started out by showing a woman in her home desperately trying to survive because that home was in a war zone. Insyriated opens in a very similar way but is limited to showing us one day in the life of a middle-aged housewife, Oum Yazan (Hiam Abbass), who, in her husband's absence, is looking after the household. It consists of her father-in-law (Mohsen Abbas), her three children who are growing up there, a nephew temporarily present and a maid (Juliette Navis). At this time, however, her apartment in a block otherwise empty also provides shelter for a couple from upstairs, Halima (Diamand Bou Abboud) and Samir (Moustapha Al Kar), together with their young baby. But these outsiders are so deterred by the state of life here in Damascus that they are planning to escape to Beirut. Oum Yazan is told of this but learns something else too: the maid tells her that she has seen Samir fall when crossing the courtyard, the victim of a sniper's bullet.


As the story proceeds, Halima, excellently played by Diamand Bou Abboud, becomes more and more central to the narrative, but nevertheless the film revolves around Oum Yazan.  Ever since 2008 when we saw both The Visitor and Lemon Tree we have known that Hiam Abbass is an exceptional actress, one who draws in the viewer to share the thoughts and feelings of the characters she plays. That makes her ideally cast here, for the situation in which Oum Yazan finds herself involves much inner conflict. She must remain strong and positive to help those around including the children but, if she and they are to survive, she cannot risk taking action when terrible things happen nearby. Meanwhile her decision not to reveal to Halima the fact that her husband is probably dead is well-intended but troublesome to her conscience for all that.


It is to the credit of this film’s Belgian director, Philippe Van Leeuw, better known as a photographer, that Insyriated, which he scripted himself, is so powerful and so compact. Indeed, only the unnecessary reliance on a music score stands out as a blemish. Yet there is a question that hovers over this film. In the case of The Patience Stone the plot developed in other directions after the opening because it was a work concerned with the position of women in the Middle East. Insyriated, in contrast, stays with the theme of civilians suffering in wartime and consequently is only able to build by making the threat ever more direct and personal. In this way the power of the film already felt intensifies, but because of that I suspect that some audiences will find the experience too much to take. That won’t apply to all viewers (the film  won an audience award at Berlin), but I do feel that the warning needs to be sounded.




Cast: Hiam Abbass, Diamand Bou Abboud, Juliette Navis, Mohsen Abbas, Moustapha Al Kar, Alissar Kaghadou, Ninar Halabi, Mohammed Jihad Sheik, Elias Khatter.


Dir Philippe Van Leeuw, Pro Guillaume Malandrin, Serge Zeitoun and Tomas Leyerg, Screenplay Philippe Van Leeuw, Ph Virginie Surdej, Ed Gladys Joujou, Music Jean-Luc Fafchamps.


Altitude 100 Production/Liaison Cinématographique-Curzon Artificial Eye.
86 mins.  Belgium/France. 2017. Rel: 8 September 2017. Cert. 15.