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Trapped inside her house in a city under siege, a mother of three turns her flat into a safe harbour for her family and neighbours in an attempt to protect them from the war raging on the streets of Damascus, in the latest from Philippe Van Leeuw (The Life of Jesus).
'Insyriated' (its UK title), although not perfect, turned out to be one of the most unsettling (as it ought to be considering the subject matter) and powerful films seen in the cinema this year to me. It is a very good film, almost great in fact, that is deserving seemingly of a wider release.
Visually, 'Insyriated' is highly atmospheric and startling. The cinematography keeps the viewer constantly at the heart of the action and gives a large amount of urgency while not going over-the-top. The editing is taut and adds to 'Insyriated's' unsettling nature, as does, and even more so, the sound editing. The lighting is haunting without being too dark. The sets are suitably confined, effectively giving a sense of claustrophobia. Philippe Van Leeuw directs with assurance and control of the subject matter, being more successful as director than as writer.
Parts of the script are tight and provoking. The story is never dull and treats its subject with an unnerving quality that really wrecks the nerves. The horrors, tension and suspense are not dealt with excessively or sledge-hammer-like nor are they sugar-coated or trivialised. Yet it doesn't hold back and takes no prisoners, which was appropriate and throughout there is a clear sense of danger.
The characters seem real and their conflicts easy to identify with every step of the way, even when they make misjudged decisions they also come over as meaning well which stops the viewer from getting frustrated at them. A great cast makes this possible, with the best performances coming from Hiam Abbass, Diamand Abou Abboud and Juliette Navis. The stages of the film where the truth of the events (primarily the shooting) is discovered are particularly well acted.
For all those strengths, there are a couple of shortcomings with 'Insyriated'. While the script is generally tight and thought-provoking, there are times where it lacks nuance and subtlety which would have given the harrowing, hard-edged tone a little more dimension. But it's the score that is the biggest issue, very mawkish and far too low-key in instrumentation which creates a completely out of kilter tone with the atmosphere, when either a more robust, stirring approach was far more suitable, just as effective would have been for the film to have no score.
Overall, very good and almost great which it could easily have been with a little more nuance and a far more appropriate music score. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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