REVIEW BY SIOMHA MCQUINN
It would appear that the world has gone a bit mad as of late, tuning into the news seems to deliver misery in a steady flow. It’s understandable therefore if heading off to see a film about innocent people caught up in the war in Syria isn’t a very appealing prospect. However, Insyriated might just be worth your while. Philippe Van Leeuw’s second feature film surpassed this reviewer’s grim expectations and instead delivered a gripping and engaging melodrama. Oum Yazan (Hiam Abbass) takes on the role of the matriarch in an apartment which acts as a safe haven for her family and those taking refuge from the terrors that surround them. The outside world is a complete mystery to the apartment’s occupants, who learn about the source of local bombings from their unreliable internet access, and to the viewer, who gains an intimate perspective on the victims of war. Our only glimpse of the outdoors is a high-angle shot from the apartment in which sniper shots animate the landscape. The rest of the hour and twenty-five minutes takes place in the apartment.
Over the space of a day the events range from the mundane to the horrific. The pacing is slow, but not sluggish, often lingering on every-day imagery and the inconvenience that arises while carrying out day-to-day activities in a war-torn area. It instills an appreciation for things that we often take for granted. The domestic space is infiltrated with the threatening sounds of war sometimes including jump scares to rival any number of horror films.
Despite the sense of turmoil in the apartment, the mise-en-scène is filled with furnishings that are brightly coloured and patterned. They reflect a lifestyle not unlike that of a potential viewer. This is anyone’s story under unfortunate circumstances. Despite the subject matter, it is a film which is palatable to the modern film viewer. It is very direct in what it wants to tell the audience, opting for an extremely expressive acting style which clearly communicates the intentions and emotions of each character. There are sweet moments of intimacy between the characters and their relationships are established early on providing the viewer with emotional grounding to cling to. These performances are exquisitely framed, as is the interior of the apartment from the rigid horizontal-and-vertical-lines of the barricaded door that are shifted and disrupted as the door is opened to the extreme close ups which take the audience out of their comfort zone along with the characters.
The end result is a film which exudes urgency, raises questions of morality and ultimately, leaves the viewer a bit shell shocked. The melodramatic tone of the film may detract from the experience for some viewers but for those who can look past it, a very valuable cinematic experience awaits.