- Hannah McGill
- 4 September 2017
Tense and sincere but slightly one-note Syrian war drama from Philippe Van Leeuw
'Don't let anyone manipulate you now,' a young woman earnestly advises her husband as they prepare their risky departure from war-battered Damascus. Sound advice, of course, but a touch ironic in the context of a film which uses the time-honoured devices of the most manipulative of genres – the melodrama and the home-invasion horror – to lend cinematic shape to the shapeless misery ongoing in Syria.
There's always going to be something a little morally unsettling about watching a punchy character-led drama set against a conflict by which countless lives are being destabilised and destroyed, even as we hand over our ticket money and settle in our seats. But perhaps this is undue concern. Any cultural offering that draws us closer to the ordeals of ordinary Syrians is doing useful work; and certainly Philippe Van Leeuw's cloistered drama of an ordinary household under fire has its strengths, chief among them the raw and heartfelt work done by lead actresses Hiam Abbass, Diamand Bou Abboud and Juliette Navis.
Tension is very effectively built up; the danger and the human drama feel painfully real. Yet it's hard not to feel overly directed – by the one-note characterisation (radiant young mother! Uptight older matriarch! Dedicated, secretive housemaid! Very bad guys!), by the highly constructed moral problems the script sets up, and particularly by the horribly syrupy score.
Few would query the sincerity of the piece (real Syrian refugees were cast in all but the principal parts), nor the technical achievement of constructing a whole war movie within the confines of one apartment. What is questionable is whether much is achieved here beyond a reminder of how lucky any of us is who gets to watch this for entertainment and walk away at the end.
Selected release from Fri 8 Sep.