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Reviews - In Syria

In Syria

Reviewed By Pam Newns

In Syria
In Syria
Having visited Syria in 2008, before the start of the devastating civil war, I was interested to see a depiction of everyday life there. Nothing could be further from the tourist's eye-view. 'In Syria' is an attempt to show everyday life in the now troubled country. It is a difficult watch – overall claustrophobic, sometimes harrowing and often bleak, but with the touches of tenderness and humour which occur in normal family life.

The film depicts a day in the life of Syrians living under siege in an apartment block in Damascus. Outside the war is raging, with the drone of helicopters, intermittent gunfire and distant explosions; inside, the family group just try to continue with living. The opening shot looks down on a war-torn courtyard; with an old man wearily chain-smoking, looking out of the window. The camera pans through the living room showing shelves of books and ornaments - finally coming to rest on the heavily barred door. We then see Delhani, the housekeeper, (excellently played by Juliette Navis) doing her chores against the tumultuous background of war.

In their bedroom, Samir and his wife Halima (Diamand Abou Abboud), are frantically planning their escape to Beirut – it is dangerous, but so is staying. Halima, protective of her baby, cannot wait to be gone, though she is concerned for Samir's safety when he leaves the apartment to meet his contact. Then a shocking event occurs – Delhani sees Salim shot by a sniper; he falls to the ground.

Horrified and distressed, she goes to find 'Madam', the owner of the apartment, to recount Salim's death. 'Madam' - Oum Yazam (well played as the family matriarch by seasoned actress Hiam Abbas) insists she keep the shooting a secret from Halima until after dark, when they have a chance of retrieving the body. Meanwhile, family life goes on – Oum has two daughters, Yara and Alisa, her young son and father-in- law (Mohsen Abbas) to look after, as well as Yara's boyfriend. She constantly tries to keep everyone safe and together in spite of formidable obstacles – the lack of water, failing radio and phone signals, and nearby bomb explosions which necessitate a dash to the kitchen where they sit it out together. She also provides them with a regular routine to keep things as near normal as is possible. But things are not normal, life is very grim and the door is kept locked to some purpose. A harrowing scene plays out when two 'security' men come knocking on the door; a threat at first repelled by the formidable Oum. The men return, force their way in and encounter a frightened Halima, who is trying to retrieve her baby. A horrible and distressing rape scene follows; the others listen helplessly through the kitchen wall.

Halima is comforted by her friends and Oum is finally forced to reveal her husband's fate. Halima, devastated, rushes out to retrieve him, aided by Yara and her boyfriend – Salim is alive but badly wounded. They get him back into the apartment, from where he is picked up by friends. The film ends with a mobile call from Oum's husband which is cut off via a poor signal; and then with her father in law again staring hopelessly out of the window as the next
day begins.

Director Philippe Van Leeuw does a good job of creating a feeling of entrapment, drawing the viewer into the tense atmosphere through the camerawork -cinematographer Virginie Surdej often follows the characters through the restricted space of the apartment. The cast, composed of named actors and Syrian refugees, work well together; there is deliberately no religious or political background given, to make the film accessible to all. At times the plot veers towards the implausible, such as when snipers target but don't shoot Yara, but this does not detract from the overall horror of life in a war zone as portrayed in this film.

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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