Belgium, France 2017

Synopsis

A family trapped inside its own home somewhere in Syria today. The try to go on living day after day. Their apartment has become a sort of blockhaus. Every day's moto is to hold on for one more day.

Directors Statement

One day, in December 2012, a Syrian friend from Damascus tells me it's been three weeks her father is blocked inside his apartment in Aleppo, with no telephone or any communication possible because of the bombings and the war devastating the city. I can picture this lonely man, a prisoner in his own home, and I imagine others like him trying to survive one day at the time.
This is the story of a family being trapped inside its own home because of the war. A sense of emergency dictated the context of this project. The script had to facilitate this, so I decided from the beginning on only one location, the apartment, and a time span of 24 hours to tell what I sense and try to understand what animates ordinary people propelled into extraordinary circumstances. Those I see aren't heroes, they are simply reacting to the situation they go through. What I seek to communicate is the frailty and the force emanating from any of us then. Between the instinct giving us the strength to act for survival and the drive inciting us sometimes to avoid helping someone else to protect ourselves, lie the same vital impulse and a moral failure. Yet no judgment, no moral issues invoked, only facts laid to bring out a bare reality.
To ensure the authenticity of the script, I relied on the advices of Syrians in exile, particularly those of fellow filmmakers Hala Mohammad and Meyar Al Roomy, and on my own knowledge of the region. I have indeed stayed and worked regularly in Lebanon for the past few years. The two nations share a common culture and customs, as they now unfortunately share the same experience of civil war. The film should be an immersive experience, the apartment should feel like a bubble about to explode, the shadows should be ominous, the outside world should seem unreachable, forbidden. The characters should feel like sitting on a volcano, shorttempered, jumpy, selfish, and yet trying to show empathy and compassion for their companions. Panic Room by David Fincher is a good reference in terms of tension, but here, no tricks, no special effects, just a plain look at the drama.
Those who saw my previous film, The Day God Walked Away, know there is no indulgence or voyeurism in the way I approach violence. Like Jacques Tourneur, I believe the less one sees, the better it is. I think the sense of realism and the emotion conveyed to the audience is far stronger when, instead of looking away, they try to see, but don't see anything or so little, they then make up mentally the missing images. That is when terror or any emotion can be truly experienced from the screen.
Also, the sound has its own ability to create images, often stronger and more vibrant than images themselves. The violent actions described in the script are thus more acoustic than visual. Still, I always try to express a notion visually instead of using dialogues to convey it. To me, faces and body language should tell it all.
As I'm not fluent in Arabic, I have asked my good friend Lebanese director Fouad Alaywan to second me during casting and on the set to oversee the exactitude and the quality of the language spoken. However, as all actors on the set are fluent in either French or English, I will have a direct communication with each one of them.
The uprising of the Syrian people has begun four years ago, and the war has been raging for well over three years now while the rest of the world has done nothing to stop it. The Syrians seeking refuge in Europe right now have had no choice but to abandon their homes and country. They all come from a place and situation for which we have no images.
Beyond the Syrian disaster today and others, past and present, I want to bring into light the civilian populations who are ever more implicated in.

Biography

Born in Brussels, Philippe Van Leeuw studied at INSAS before moving to Los Angeles, where he studied cinematography at the American Film Institute. Among his teachers were legendary cinematographers Sven Nykvist and Conrad Hall.
Upon his return to Europe, he took on the role as director of photography for feature documentaries, institutional films as well as in advertising. It was during these collaborations that he came to meet director Bruno Dumont, who would direct "La vie de J├ęsus", Philippe Van Leeuw's feature film debut as cinematographer. From here on he dedicated his career to fiction, lensing several films, television features and short films. His recent contributions include two Lebanese features, "Asfouri" by Fouad Alaywan and "Stable, Unstable" by Mahmoud Hojeij.
Meanwhile, Van Leeuw also finds time for his interest in writing and photography. His dedication to social and poetic films has lead him to his directorial debut, THE DAY GOD WALKED AWAY (2009).

Filmography:

2009 THE DAY GOD WALKED AWAY
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Cast & Crew

Directed by : Philippe Van Leeuw

Written by : Philippe Van Leeuw

Produced by : Guillaume Malandrin

Director of Photography : Virginie Surdej

Editor : Gladys Joujou

Production Design : Cathy Lebrun

Costume Design : Claire Dubien

Hair & Make up Artist : Murielle Vercruysse

Composer : Philippe Fafchamps

Sound Design : Paul Heymans

Main Cast : Hiam Abbas (Oum Yazan), Diamand Abou Abboud (Halima), Juliette Navis (Delhani)

Nominations and Awards

  • EFA Feature Film Selection 2017