We are all courageous.”

A moving and unflinching examination of the horrors of war to the civilians trapped in their own house, Insyriated offers an exceptional and harrowing commentary on the Syrian conflict for those caught up in events but without weapons or malice. It deservedly won the Panorama Audience Award at the Berlin Film Festival.

Halima (Diamand Bou Abboud) and her husband Samir (Moustapha Al Kar) live in an apartment in Damascus with their newborn son whilst war rages in their neighbourhood – an area threatened by skirmishes with snipers and encircled by helicopters, some delivering bombs onto homes with devastating inevitability. Samir realises that they should escape, planning get his family to Beirut despite the fact that he feels ashamed to be leaving, although his wife notes that “We don’t have a choice do we?” They have moved in with landlady Oum Yazan (Hiam Abbass) who lives downstairs with her two daughters and son as well as her father in law. Housemaid Delhani (Juliette Navis) and young Karim (Elias Khatter) complete the group. Removing the wooden bars across the door, Samir decides to leave the heavily blockaded apartment to confirm details of their departure. Watching from the balcony, Delhani sees him walking from the building and hears the shot as she watches him fall to the ground, struck by a sniper’s bullet, his body lying, unmoving, in the rubble of the street. She tells her boss and they agree not to tell Halima for the sake of maintaining calm within the house. Besides, they cannot even attempt to reach him until darkness falls for fear of falling victim to the sniper’s bullet themselves. They go about their business trying to live a normal life, albeit having to find water for bathing and cooking. But matters take an even darker turn when three men, pertaining to be watchmen (“We must check what we can see from your place, let us in”), relentlessly knock on the door demanding access amidst the atrocities and explosions outside. The family’s doubts about these visitors’ motives are proved to be founded when one smashes in and breaks down the door for the other two so that they can instigate a rapacious rule of savagery and terror. While most of the householders are hiding in the kitchen, Halima who desperately needs to protect her child, cannot get to this safe space in time. “This war will be over soon and then we’ll be safe again,” is a mantra that all of them cling to, although a hopeful outcome appears unlikely and the consequences of this horrific war are too hideous to imagine.

Insyriated is a deeply disturbing and highly realistic film about the claustrophobic plight of those trying to survive a conflict in which they are playing no active part and their encounters with those who are using a dreadful situation for their own personal gain. It is fundamentally about their attempts to define a safe environment within confines where certainty of security is as unknown as their chances of obtaining food, water or electricity amidst the chaos. The film’s construction is designed to include the viewer in the tension and immediacy of their situation; it engages us within the constricted timeframe and constrained space of the apartment. The events are uncompromising in their depiction but in no way is this a film that relies on visceral excess to portray its viewpoint and meaning. The horrors are depicted realistically but in such a way that the viewer’s imagination provides a deeper meaning, that of repugnance and fear. This is especially true in the case in the barbarity and savagery that is forced upon Halima and her decision to permit atrocious violations in order to protect others in the apartment and – primarily – her son

Extras include a fascinating interview with writer/director Philippe Van Leeuw as he describes the genesis of the film, the political issues surrounding the international reaction to the situation in Syria as well as talking about his film-making technique to identify an immediacy for the protagonists and their situation.

An essential and well constructed film that shows the savagery of war from a very personal civilian perspective as opposed to militaristic. It does not make for comfortable viewing because the characters’ predicaments are just so awful but it is powerful and emotional film-making.