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New Release Review - INSYRIATED

insyriated review
The remaining residents of a Damascus apartment block wait for a chance to escape as war rages in the streets outside.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Philippe Van Leeuw

Starring: Hiam Abbass, Diamand Bou Abboud, Juliette Navis, Mohsen Abbas

insyriated poster


Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit, which details the murder of three black men by white cops in the titular city, has provoked a debate regarding whether white filmmakers, no matter how well-intentioned they may be, should tackle such issues. There's an argument to be made that Detroit isn't a specifically black story, as of course its antagonists were white, and that white filmmakers should face their shameful history.

Insyriated (a remarkably cheesy title for such a sombre drama), raises a similar question. Is Belgian filmmaker Philippe Van Leeuw, who previously tackled the Rwandan genocide in his 2009 directorial debut The Day God Walked Away, qualified to write and direct a drama set amid the ongoing Syrian civil war? Again, there's a counter argument that Syrian filmmakers aren't in a position to tell their own story, and given we in the west are partly responsible for the turmoil in the Middle East, shouldn't western filmmakers confront the chaos their governments have wrought? On the evidence of Insyriated, as shallow and exploitative a drama as could possibly be fashioned from such complex subject matter, the answer is a resounding 'no!'


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Insyriated opens with an elderly man, Abou (Mohsen Abbas), puffing on a cigarette as he stares out the window of the Damascus apartment he currently shares with his daughter in-law, Oum (Hiam Abbass), and her extended family. The man's face suggests there's a lot running through his mind, but aside from the 'war is hell' message delivered with a sledgehammer by Van Leeuw over the course of the film, we're given little insight into the exact nature of his troubles.

Oum and her family, along with Samir and Halima (Moustapha Al Kar and Diamand Bou Abboud), a young couple from a neighbouring apartment, are the last residents to remain in their apartment block, under siege from shelling and snipers, while they await the return of Oum's husband.


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When Samir leaves to meet with a reporter set to aid the couple's planned flight from Syria (mention of Lebanon as a safe haven is perhaps the most insightful moment in the entire film), he is gunned down by a sniper. Keeping her husband's shooting secret from Halima, Oum attempts to hold her family together for the day.

Insyriated offers an intriguing setup for a chamber drama, but it quickly veers into over the top melodrama that too often relies on character behaviour that's difficult to swallow. At the midway point it enters '70s grindhouse territory with an extended rape scene, one which sees the rest of the residents hiding in the kitchen while they ignore the victim's screams, along with those of her infant child. Given the two rapists are vastly outnumbered by the residents of Oum's apartment, who could quite easily overpower them, it's a scenario only the most misanthropic of viewers will accept.


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Perhaps such inaction is due to the possible wider consequences of taking on the two attackers, but the film never provides us with any context that might make this more understandable. Politics are non-existent here, with no clues given as to who exactly is responsible for the shelling and gunfire outside, or which side of the civil war the rapists represent. Van Leeuw may argue this was his point, that war is hell regardless of its politics, but if that's the case, why choose such a specific and contemporary setting?

Insyriated is in UK/ROI cinemas September 8th.



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