Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"The idea that a family would face the war crime equivalent of lions, tigers and bears in the space of a few hours barges through the boundaries of belief."

It comes as no surprise that the title of Insyriated has been changed to the much simpler In Syria for the US market. But the original name mirrors much of what doesn't work about Philippe Van Leeuw's dramatisation of life under fire in Syria - in that it is over-complicated, has the whiff of tabloid melodrama and is trying too hard for meaning. What is the word supposed to evoke anyway? Incinerated? Incarcerated? Annihilated? Questions persist.

The setting is a single day in a single apartment in a multi-storey block. Here the matriarch Oum Yazan (Hiam Abbas) is trying to hold together her extended family while waiting for her husband to return. Snipers make going outside - and returning - difficult, meaning that in addition to her father-in-law Mustafa (Mohsen Abbas) and children Yara (Alissar Kaghadou), Aliya (Ninar Halabi) and Yazan (Mohammad Jihad Sleik), Yara's boyfriend (Kareem (Elias Khatter) is also taking refuge with them. They have also taken in neighbours Halima (Diamand Abou Abboud), Selim (Moustapha Al Kar) and their baby. Watching from the fringes is their migrant maid Delhani (Juliette Navis) - by far the most interesting of the characters here as she represents an echelon and outsider perspective of Middle Eastern life that is often overlooked in film.

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It is Delhani's observance that brings tension into the household when, while watching Selim leave on a mission to get his family papers so they can flee to Beirut, she sees him shot down by a sniper. The situation presents a moral dilemma for Oum Yazan, in whom the maid confides, torn between wanting to see if the young man has survived and the desire to protect those remaining inside. This might be considered more than enough plot for one family on one day, but Van Leeuw seeks to stoke the melodrama by also having the family threatened by a group of local thugs.

What happens next is intended to highlight a moral crisis for Oum Yazan even greater than that which has gone before, but there is no nuance to its brutal execution, making it not only hard to watch but even harder to believe. While any number of documentaries - from Last Men In Aleppo to Cries From Syria make no bones about the fact that many families are constantly under the threat of bombardment and worse, the idea that a family would face the war crime equivalent of lions, tigers and bears in the space of a few hours barges through the boundaries of belief. The aggressors are also called upon to be selectively violent, which further undermines the situation, while the dialogue is increasingly stilted as it tries to serve the moral arguments.

Van Leeuw has a strong resume as a cinematographer and the visuals are the best thing about this film. Cinematographer Virginie Surdej shows excellent control of the spaces in the apartment, frequently following characters as they walk through the corridors and rooms and building an oppressive atmosphere of isolation. What he forgets is that we don't just need to see the horrors laid on thick, we need to feel a connection to the characters that goes beyond the moral maze.

Reviewed on: 24 Jul 2017
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A woman tries to hold her family together under a constant barrage of war.
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Director: Philippe Van Leeuw

Writer: Philippe Van Leeuw

Starring: Hiam Abbass, Diamand Bou Abboud, Juliette Navis, Mohsen Abbas, Moustapha Al Kar, Alissar Kaghadou, Ninar Halabi, Mohammad Jihad Sleik, Elias Khatter, Husam Chadat

Year: 2017

Runtime: 85 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Belgium, France, Lebanon

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