A Film By Mohamed Diab
Genre: Drama • Year: 2016 • Country: Egypt • Running Time: 97 minutes • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 • Image: Colour • Language: Arabic
Having forcefully tackled the subject of female injustice and the sexual harassment epidemic with his directorial debut Cairo 678, one of Egypt’s foremost contemporary filmmakers has returned with the staggeringly powerful Clash, screening in the Official Competition category at the 60th BFI London Film Festival.
Four years in development, Mohamed Diab’s dramatic thriller – initially planned to depict the rise of the revolution – is set just shortly after the violent political events of June 2013, which saw the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi ousted from power by the sheer force of the Egyptian army, ultimately capturing the fall and aftermath of the revolution at its most intimate and intense.
It is a hugely ambitious piece of pure, energetically charged cinema; brave, bold and epic in scope, yet executed with great intimacy and a remarkable sense of craft.
Unfolding entirely within the sweltering and unbearably claustrophobic confines of a police riot van (and shot from within – bravo cinematographer Ahmed Gabr), Diab’s surprisingly neutral film uses this ingenious concept to masterfully document the human condition, the prejudice and inhumanity in contemporary society and the lasting effects of a nation torn apart by opposing points of view. Diab makes it very clear that the events scale far beyond what we witness through the camera’s field of vision.
The first two detainees forced into the van are an Egyptian-American conflict journalist and a freelance photographer, suspected of being potential spies under the guise of Associated Press reporters. They are soon followed by a nurse, her husband and their teenage son (caught up in a military protest and accused of throwing stones at officers), before one-by one, the van is slowly filled to bursting with a microcosm of rival Muslim Brotherhood revolutionaries and pro-military supporters, picked up during another fierce demonstration.
Having been inhumanely forced into captivity like animals in some sort of warped zoo exhibit, the majority of the group initially appear to be rather unlikeable characters, but slowly realising they have no choice but to accept their significant differences and work together in order to get through the ordeal (which unsurprisingly does not always go to plan), we soon grow to empathise and appreciate their opposing views. They are not inherently antagonistic or violent people, they are simply ordinary human beings, compelled into their conflicting factions and unjustly abused by heartless officials, deprived of water, fresh air and the ability to go to the toilet.
Following its Cannes screening, Diab’s screenplay received a little bit of criticism for being a little cheesy or heavy-handed, however he does an excellent job at contrasting the political aggression and highlighting the human element of the situation, emphasising the unease and nervous humour that often develops in awkward group scenarios and moments of silence.
Clash is not always the easiest film to watch – on the contrary it is often infuriating, disturbing and deeply moving – but it is an utterly compelling work of political and cultural commentary, and evokes a powerful sense of empathy throughout. Diab’s self claimed love letter to his homeland makes for truly essential viewing.
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