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Philippe Van Leeuw • Director

"It’s not a war film, but a film about war"


- Philippe Van Leeuw once again deals a striking blow with Insyriated, the story of a punishing day in the life of a Syrian family under siege in their own apartment.

Philippe Van Leeuw  • Director
(© Berlinale)

After The Day God Went Away [+see also:
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, a huis clos set in the middle of the jungle on the Rwandan genocide, Philippe Van Leeuw deals another striking blow with Insyriated [+see also:
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interview: Philippe Van Leeuw
film profile
, the story of a punishing day in the life of a Syrian family under siege in their own apartment, ripped apart by the physical conflict as well as the moral conflicts that haunt them. Unveiled at this year’s Berlinale, where the film was awarded the Audience Award and the Europa Cinemas Label.

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Cineuropa: Insyriated is a tragedy both in terms of content and form.
Philippe Van Leeuw: Yes, the combination of the place and time made it possible to make the film quickly, which was imperative. So I set the film in this apartment, stretching from the dawn of one day to the next. We see these people living, and watch what they go through everyday, laid siege to in their own home. You can’t imagine the intensity of the fighting and the way it affects the local people. 

Is living a normal life through times of war madness, or the only way to stop yourself from going mad?
There’s no normality in times of war, just exceptional events that happen without you having any control over them. You’re a hostage, and anything can happen. A bomb could fall on your house and wipe out your entire world in 5 minutes flat. While you wait for that to happen, you have to cook, do the washing up, and try to keep the dust at bay; there’s dust everywhere. This woman, played by Hiam Abbas, fights tooth and nail to defend her home. It’s her home, her house. She has built her life around it and refuses to let the war stop her from living where she has decided to settle down. Syrians, both those who have left Syria and become refugees and those who have stayed, have this desire, this deep and truly legitimate yearning to hold onto their homes, or return to them. 

It’s also a film about the bravery of ordinary people.
Absolutely, it focuses on people like you and me, who aren’t capable of being heroic or taking one side or the other. How do they go about their everyday lives? Some choices seem impossible, and some decisions escape all logic, but they have no choice. One possibility is having one person in the group face the terror all alone while the others go into hiding. 

It’s also a film about women, who experience war on a daily basis.
I’m sure that women are the main target of any way, as they anchor men. They represent a port, the home. If you lose that, you lose the ability to fight, you no longer have any reason to do so. They are also targets that defend themselves with something other than weapons. They defend themselves with their convictions, their moral strength and courage.

This is a war film in which war itself takes place off-screen?
It’s not a war film, it’s a film about war. It’s about what war does to ordinary people; how ordinary people get by in their daily lives in the middle of war. We had to come up with a soundtrack that tells the story of war as it is experienced by the protagonists of the film without actually witnessing it, using sounds of explosions, gunfire, helicopters, etc.

How did you choose to broach violence in the film?
I try as far as possible to avoid any explicit violence on screen. I’m more of the school of thought of Jacques Tourneur, in the sense that I believe that the less you see, the more impact it has. It’s important for the viewer to never want to look away because what we’re showing them is unbearable. I much prefer eluding to violence off screen, through sound, leaving it up to our imaginations in light of the context. These conditions make the whole thing much more real, using sound is more meaningful than using images, it makes things more realistic. I try to show violence as little as possible, even though that’s what the film is all about. 

The film is highly contemporary, yet the subject matter is very universal.
Indeed, the film is very contemporary, and that’s almost certainly what moves audiences. It’s a film that could just as easily take place in Beirut, Sarajevo, Warsaw in 1943, Berlin in 1945, anywhere where times of war have been experienced by civilians left to fend for themselves in the thick of the fighting.

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(Translated from French)

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