BIFF award winning drama from Philippe Van Leeuw; Insyriated (AKA In Syria) tells the story of a family surviving day-to-day in war-torn Syria. Lawrence reviews.
Insyriated, or if you prefer its more sensible (if rather bland) name In Syria, encloses us with a small Syrian family barricaded within their own home in Damascus, as the civil war rages outside. With them is a neighbouring couple, Halima (Diamand Bou Abboud) and her husband Samir (Moustapha Al Kar). The fighting is heavy enough to be a constant danger, but not so consistent that you could get used to it. Invisible enemies casting clouds of uncertainty over every excursion outside; it’s an incidental siege.
The authority of the family lies with the mother, Oum Yazan (Hiam Abbass), and to a lesser extent the grandfather, Abou Monzer (Mohsen Abbas); both have that special genre of leathered, weary face that practically does the acting for them (not that they need it). The film knows it too with the final, lingering shot of the movie lets you see every wrinkle; tears threatening to bubble over but never quite making it. Poignant to be sure, but a little heavy handed by my metrics. Wry recollections of Native Americans shedding a single tear over littering dilute the gravitas somewhat.
It’s a war movie, minus the capital letter. More like a slice-of-life with the life in question trapped in a war-torn pit. Interpersonal tensions, small scale environments, all bookended in a distinctly cyclical fashion; the hallmarks are all there. It does a good job of cementing these events as the “new normal” for these people, and while it can get pretty ghastly, it’s never so much that the audience disengages; it’s a fine balance.
Much like Dunkirk, we never actually see any enemy soldiers, for likely the same reasons. Aside from a brief check-in with a family friend, we never even see any “friendly” soldiers either, in this environment they’re both trouble and to be avoided. Brigands and scavengers pose a much more tangible threat, all too tangible in some instances.
I won’t condescend to tell you it’s “the movie we need right now”. That’s something that can only be decided in retrospect, but it does provide a timely insight on the plight of the Syrian people. We may very well know it’s bad, but it helps to be made to feel it too. An abrupt and anticlimactic ending may rub some the wrong way, but Insyriated provides a sober and humanising view into the victims of modern war, with firm direction and a solid base of talented acting to support it.