The Square


Movie review by Greg Carlson

Jehane Noujaim’s vivid recontextualization of the 2011 demonstrations that led to the resignation of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt forms the basis and the beginning of Academy Award nominee “The Square.” Through the eyes of those who participated in the protests that came to be known as part of the Arab Spring, Noujaim’s documentary blends the abstract and the specific, mainly by following the highly charged trajectories of a trio of young men involved deeply, personally, and spiritually in the drama. Unfolding with intense urgency, “The Square” applies both street-level and balcony-height views of the often chaotic, always stirring interactions occurring in and around Tahrir Square.

“The Square” introduces us to Ahmed Hassan, whose optimism and enthusiasm will be tested once violence enters the equation. Khalid Abdalla, the Scotland-born actor familiar to American moviegoers in “United 93,” “The Kite Runner,” and “Green Zone,” is a fellow secularist as well as a founding member of the Mosireen Collective, dedicated to citizen-originated journalism. Magdy Ashour is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood torn between the organization, his family, and the skeptical friends who oppose the Brotherhood’s deals with the powerful Egyptian military leadership. Ashour’s presence drives one of the film’s key questions: how might democracy function in a culture where church and state are so inextricably linked?

A fourth man, Ramy Essam, identified as the singing voice of the revolution through his folky, charismatic performances, appears often, but for whatever reason, is not afforded the same kind of screen time given to Hassan, Abdalla, and Ashour. Essam does, however, play an important role in the military crackdown on the popular uprising when his gruesome wounds are recorded as one of many examples bearing witness to beating and torture at the hands of police and thugs hired to break up the ongoing demonstrations in Tahrir Square.

Noujaim builds her very compelling document on the strength of this principal group of men, but considering the status of rights for women under the shifting political scenarios that continue to emerge following the end of rule by Mubarak and then Morsi, the presence of strong female voices in “The Square” is lacking. Aida El Kashef, an articulate associate of the protesters whose personal stories are more deeply investigated, shows up a handful of times, and a small number of other women refer to the difficulties faced by female demonstrators.

“The Square” does not shy away from the horrifying images that confirmed the actions of the state during the ongoing period of “emergency rule.” Military vehicles and tanks run down and crush to death several citizens. People are beaten, gassed and shot. Noujaim thoroughly understands the role of citizen journalists in the age of social media, especially the compelling way uploaded cell phone video can speak truth to power. One truism of history is the willingness of those in control to deny the actions undertaken on behalf of a regime. Like “Control Room,” her fascinating documentary examining Al Jazeera, Noujaim marvels at the doublespeak spewed by those paid essentially to spin the truth. Army spokesperson General Hamdy Bekheit, confronted with a picture of a gunshot victim, replies “This is not an army bullet. It doesn’t look like one.” Based on all available evidence, Bekheit’s words defy credulity.

Previous Post
Comments are closed.