Set inside an apartment in war-torn Damascus, this lean thriller feels more like a play than a film. Though the mood is tense and claustrophobic, it’s all a little too abrupt. The house’s cramped kitchen becomes a makeshift panic room, with nine tenants squashed into one room as gunfire ricochets around the building’s exterior. In charge is Oum Yazan (Hiam Abbas), a stern matriarch who protects her ageing father, young children and maid, as well as a neighbour, Halima, and her newborn baby, with the fierceness of a lioness. The apartment is her home and “no one will force me out of it”, she declares. In contrast to Yazan’s cold fury is the tender rage that spills out of the rosy-cheeked Halima (Diamand Bou Abboud). Abboud’s physical performance is particularly brilliant – frightened and fidgety, a startled rabbit fighting for her life. Though it’s not gratuitous exactly, at times the film is difficult to watch; director Philippe Van Leeuw captures both the everyday horror of living through war and the lurking threat of sexual violence.
Simran Hans is a culture writer and former film critic for the Observer