Directed by Mohamed Diab
Inspired by a real event , Clash takes place almost entirely in a riot van during a demonstration in Cairo after the removal of President Morsi in 2013.
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★★★★ review by Martin Samy on Letterboxd
There has been much anticipation and controversy preceding the theatrical release in Egypt with several rumors that it will get censored or not released at all and a reporter on National TV called the director a "traitor" and an "anarchist who only focuses on the bad aspects of Egyptian society to capitalize on them." But although it's the most political film to be released in Egypt after the revolution ,in a market dominated mostly by comedies and Hollywood blockbusters, it comes off as mostly apolitical.
Clash is the second feature film for writer/director Mohamed Diab taking place in early July 2013 after president Mohamed Morsi was overthrown by the army and many people took off to the streets either to celebrate or protest. Starting in an empty police car of about eight meters square which soon gets filled with different people arrested in the protests ranging from an American/Egyptian reporter to revolutionaries and Muslim Brotherhood supporters to a group of young men who had nothing to do with it all except that they happened to be walking by.
Tensions arise and we start to see the sheep mentality of both the Muslim Brotherhood members who only talk to each other and refuse to stand next to the others and that of the policemen who refuse to give the arrested water as they were not "ordered" to.
But the movie doesn't focus on their political affiliations and portrays them as only humans. We see the revolutionary nurse helping a wounded M.B member. They sing, they share their memories during the Arab Spring revolution. The short running time may not allow to dig deeper into the characters but I think it focuses more on living the experience by confining our POV inside the car during the whole movie making us feel as hopeless and suffocated as those trapped who aren't even allowed to pee and instead are shown how to do it in a bottle.
The dialogue sometimes seems a little childish and some things felt like they were thrown in just to increase the running time as the argument between Mans and his friend who found out that Mans is sending romantic messages to the his sister.
The clash scenes between the police and the protestors were masterful and showing them only through the car windows makes them seem even more colossal giving a real feeling of the chaos. The ending was cinematically beautiful with the green lasers all over the place. Although the ending may seem a little unsatisfying to some (including me at first), I think it's the perfect reflection of the current thinking in Egypt.
After The Revolution in 2011 during the Arab Spring, everyone, especially the youth, started thinking of his own utopia and were looking forward to a "New Egypt", only to watch their dreams evaporate as they saw the same mistakes being repeated again, their political leaders betraying them, giving them only false promises and sweet talk. As I am writing this now, the economy is at its lowest with the rich/poor gap widening gradually, the budget for health and education dwindling, the political arena is filled with the same faces or new faces with the same mindset of the old regime. Censorship touches everything and there have even been talks to censor the Social media. They can't be blamed for losing hope ,abandoning their dreams and not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. For them, there is only darkness-nothing else.
★★★★ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
Never again will I pity myself for my parents not letting me pee during long road trips when I was younger. In all seriousness though: terrifying, tremendous, transportative.
★★★★★ review by Ziad El Shal on Letterboxd
this movie will go places .. i don't know where .. but places!
★★★★½ review by Raul Marques on Letterboxd
A towering achievement in crafting an immediately enthralling microcosm of a literal and sociopolitical battlefield that's as straightforward as is intricately developed. Confining characters in a single location is an eminently traditional screenwriting approach that can often have the side effect of overly stagnating both the action and the visuals of a certain movie, but that couldn't be further from the executed here. Its positively unrestrained utilization of colors and music, particularly later in the film, only heightens the relentless poignancy of the script. One of the year's best and most relevant.
★★★★★ review by Rouven Linnarz on Letterboxd
Clash (Eshtebak) by Mohamed Diab
“Egypt is bad luck.”
Considering his film Clash has just been released by Arrow Films on Bluray and DVD after having been screened on many film festivals in 2016 one might think this is the feature debut of director Mohamed Diab. In fact Diab has had a successful career in his home country Egypt for many years and is responsible for some of the highest grossing films there making himself quite popular.
When in 2011 Egypt started a movement which would ultimately be part of the so-called Arab Spring and lead to the overthrowing of Egypt's dictator Hosni Mubarak Diab used his popularity to speak against the political regime motivating people to be part of the revolution. In an interview, which was recorded at the London Film Festival 2016, Diab explains Clash was first planned to be a story about the revolution, the way it united the people of Egypt but ultimately the film took so long to create other events took place in his country making this premise obsolete. After the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) had taken over the political reigns in his home country Diab and many of his colleagues saw what would can only be described as a strong division within the Egyptian population in which one side would support the Brotherhood while the other side realized one repressive regime had just been replaced with another, perhaps even more restricting than the one before. After the removal of the MB's political leader Mohamed Morsi, Egypt delved into chaos with violent protests erupting in the country. Diab and his brother Khaled decided to set Clash within these days of social and political upheaval.
Clash is a film about social divisions, the gap between people created by politics, religion and distrust. Not so much a historical account of events it is a diagnosis of Egypt today, according to Diab, a society whose former unity of 2011 is only a shadow in the minds of people.
In the days after the overthrow of Morsi a group of people is detained by the Egyptian police in a police truck. Among them are two journalists, Adam (Hany Adel) and Zein (Mohamed El Sabaey), who have been reporting on the protests as well as a group supporting the military in their plan to take charge in the country and later on a group supporting the cause of the MB. As both groups are highly suspicious of the other it does not take long until tensions rise to open fights in the restricted space of the truck eventually stopped by the police using water guns.
Threatened to be imprisoned indefinitely or shot the men and women have to calm down as events around them start to devolve into chaos with the truck being attacked multiple times and some of the characters trying to contact someone from the outside to help them or, even better, be rescued. However, the soon realize their biggest enemy is neither the police nor the protesters outside but the distrust among them.
Among the people in the police van are two elderly men, Salah (Gameel Barsoum), the owner of a cell phone shop, and his employee Radwan (Mohamed Abdel Azim) keep together as most of the others concentrate on their differences taking the fight which is still ongoing outside into the restricted space of the truck. However, as a series of shots is fired on the police squad guarding the van the two of them are separated in the following panic. In a magnificent medium shot changing into a close-up their hands search and meet one another pulling the other man in the right direction again while the shots outside feel (and sound) like heavy rocks thrown violently at the metal exterior of the van.
Mohamed Diab is a master in portraying the chasm between the characters, and thus the Egyptian people, through the dichotomy but also reflection of the inside and the outside. Much like the confined space of the submarine in Wolfgang Petersen's Das Boot or the tank in Samuel Maoz' Lebanon the events in the police truck mirror what is happening outside the metal walls of the vehicle with supporters of the MB physically or verbally fighting supporters of the military and vice versa. The script, which Diab wrote with his brother, is excellently written presenting the gap which has been created and consequently widened between people who have been protesting side by side against a political dictator not two years ago. The film has reduced the conflict geographically, a conflict which will, as the title promises, ultimately clash.
However, this dichotomy is taken further repeatedly as evident in the scene describe above. In the course of the film the van, a symbol for repression, develops into a space of safety, especially during the many attacks, but also a death trap for its twenty passengers who have to come up with solutions for more urgent problems such as ventilation, thirst and hunger considering the are supplied with neither from the outside. Interestingly, the more the arguments among the characters make way for basic human needs, for example in the scene in which the they are trying to convince the soldiers outside to let go of the children among them or when one girl (Mai El Ghaity) needs to pee and is too ashamed to admit it, the more the opposing side outside blur into what can only be described as chaos. Ironically, even the characters themselves have trouble distinguishing the two parties as each of them has become just another violent, shouting mob of people, a potential threat for the passengers.
In his essay about the film author Michael Brooke describes the body of work of Mohamed Diab as films “claustrophobes should stay well away from”. As Ahmed Gabr's camera stays within the van, with outside events only seen through the tiny barred windows of the vehicle, the effect is quite disquieting and uncomfortable as if the viewer is also one of the passengers in the crowded truck, one can almost feel his/her movements being restricted as consequence of the magnificent editing by Ahmed Hafez. In the case of Clash visuals and narration form a perfect amalgam in portraying the sheer confusion of these days but also the division among people.
Clash is a claustrophobic blend between drama and thriller about the events of the Egyptian protests in 2013. It presents the chasm between the population unable to trust each other, a development all the more disturbing given how the unity of 2011 is still very much in the hearts and minds of the characters as they in one scene even talk about those glory days, the hopes and dreams linked to the change in power in their home country. But perhaps Diab's film shows its message most effectively in the series of shots portraying the shock, disgust, unspoken anger and grief as all of the passengers see one protester being beaten to death by soldiers. Because in the end the image of the young man bleeding from his wounds is one of the lasting pictures of these days, the chaos, the violence and the many deaths.
1) Tales from the Van (2016) an interview with director Mohamed Diab
2) Brooke, Michael (2017) The Round-Up
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