Syria, and the civil war is raging across the nation as government forces clash with the rebels, and there are bombings, missiles and snipers ever-present that makes life extremely difficult for any of the population who have refused to leave and become refugees. One Damascus apartment block houses a group of people who are trying to scrape by in these severely restrictive circumstances, and Oum Yazan (Hiam Abbass) is, on top of all her other concerns, fretting over the absence of her husband who left a few days ago and has not been in contact since. She puts on a brave face for the sake of her children, but with a fresh tragedy occurring today, how can she hold it all together?
Writer and director Philippe Van Leeuw had already made a film about the civil war in Rwanda when he decided to embark on a similar project intended to bring the reality of living with war to countries that were not so afflicted, and Syria was the obvious choice, never out of the news thanks to the atrocities and dreadful conditions there that had seen countless refugees seek a new place to live away from the nightmare their homeland had turned into. This had created resentment in many quarters, from those who believed the other countries should step in to bring the conflict to a close, to those who didn't see why this huge influx of asylum seekers and migrants had to come to them.
Therefore you would think Van Leeuw's film would be providing a valuable service, but the truth was this was never going to be a blockbuster as problems in the countries it was released in proved more important than that of Syria's; it's true everywhere has issues to deal with, but that seemed to translate into a wave of sentiment along the lines of "don't bother us with this, can't you see we have enough to be getting on with ourselves?" Those who did seek out a drama about a war in the Middle East were more more attuned to international affairs and as a result more naturally sympathetic, but even they would have to wonder what, realistically, they could possibly do in response.
That sense of futility, that there was never going to be an end to the wars in the Middle East, was in every scene and most notable in the last which opted not to suggest a solution and instead leave it open, resolving nothing, partly because at the point the film had been made nothing had indeed been resolved. It was frustrating, but you could not think of an alternative conclusion that would have satisfied without looking like something from the realms of fantasy: the situation genuinely was that dire, and if this production telescoped all sorts of ills visited upon its characters into one day, then Van Leeuw could be forgiven for attempting to deliver his message with as much emphasis, and covering as much ground, as possible. Well, you say it covers a lot of ground, but that was ironic as the action barely left the apartment.
This claustrophobic atmosphere, the feeling that the terror was inescapable, was one of the strengths of Insyriated - though its "What does that mean, then?" title was assuredly not - and the cast handled it well, with Israeli star Abbass worthwhile as the matriarch who finds she cannot be guaranteed to make the right decisions when spur of the moment options were all that were available to her. Also worthy of praise was Diamand Bou Abboud as Halima, who has the bad day to end all bad days when her husband is shot by a sniper seconds after leaving their apartment, then is abandoned by her terrified neighbours to be raped by a couple of vile men in the room next to where they are hiding as all the while her horror of what they could do to her baby presses on her anguished emotions. Understandably, there was little time for humour, but there was little time for hope too, and the lack of coming up with any message other than "Don't just sit there, do something!" was unhelpful when we couldn't see what we could do. Powerful in places, but intentionally or not, it shut down optimism. Music by Jean-Luc Fafchamps.
[Curzon's DVD has an interview with the director and a trailer as extras.]