Clash proves to be a powerfully poignant sophomore attempt from the burgeoning Egyptian director.
There’s always an inherent danger when attending a protest. Sure, while some may imagine that human decency would ensure that it remains a peaceful and fruitful demonstration, that is seldom the case in many countries. More often than not, tear gas, batons, and riot police line the streets to deter others from following suit. And even worse, it often escalates into a full blown riot in which people are detained, injured, or worse, killed.
This existence soon became the norm for many Egyptians who, after marching through the streets during the Arab Spring to remove the despot Hosni Mubarak, were met with an even more autocratic leader by the name of Mohamed Morsi. His sweeping constitutional law changes granted him unwavering power, leaving most to wonder what in the hell they had even fought for in the first place. Soon, the protests against the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Morsi surpassed even Mubarak’s, becoming the largest that the country had ever seen. Days later, the military stepped in to remove the president. And that’s when all hell broke loose.
Mohamed Diab’s Clash opens on the aftermath of the 2013 military intervention, wherein protests between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and pro-military demonstrators are a boiling point. Clash follows the story of a group of individuals who are stuck in a police van after being arrested for a slew of reasons that range from throwing rocks to being journalists. And just as the individuals are imprisoned inside the van, so too is the camera. The film’s entire narrative takes place within the confines of the paddy wagon, where a myriad of people, each who have differing political affiliations and social beliefs are forced to occupy the same space. Soon, the trapped protestors and supporters must put their differences aside and band together if they are to accomplish their common goal–to survive.
Diab’s first film, Cairo 678, was a standout-hit, showcasing the underlying sexist issues that pervades not only the Arab world, but the entire globe. It was an eye-opening piece of filmmaking that worked tirelessly to document the tragic existence that so many women must silently suffer through at the hands of men. Six years later, Diab has returned with yet another poignantly humanist work that pushes audiences to realize that sociopolitical hatred for one another is but a superficial facade that soon fades when one’s humanity is put to the test.
Having initially screened as part of the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes, Clash is a powerful piece of filmmaking that is as tragic as it is enlightening. From the skillful use of sound design to showcase perspective and singular ideology to the adept use of claustrophobic space, Diab’s newest feature demonstrates the work of an increasingly masterful filmmaker who is able to unravel the complex social fabric of contemporary Egypt. It is a thought-provoking picture that is as socially conscious of a film as a film can be.
Coupled with the fact that the movie takes place entirely in the van (a lá Buried or Locke), Diab is forcing audiences to undertake the same humanist journey that the occupants of the van are undergoing. What we see is an incubator of sorts, in which the confined space allows each side to voice their views of the situation with no way of escaping the other’s viewpoint. It’s a powerful filmmaking device, one that allows viewers to peer not only into the evolving psyche of the prisoners as they are forced to confront one another, but also allowing them to voyeuristically look out pasted caged windows into the crumbling Egypt that they all once knew.
Diab originally envisioned the film as a project that documents the optimism and social upheaval in the aftermath of the revolution. But as the writing dragged on and the situation in Egypt began devolving more and more, Diab instead began exploring the unforeseeable nightmare that would follow after Morsi’s election and subsequent ousting. The subsequent pervasive social aura of distrust, violence and chaos in Egypt was exactly what Diab wanted to explore in his next project–but certainly not by choice. The film’s narrative seems driven more by social necessity than artistic desire. For Diab, his home is not what it once was. Now, no one believes one another anymore–even the people who are supposedly on the same side.
But even while these citizens may not trust each other or their words, what Clash expertly demonstrates is the multitude of people that become involved in the revolution and post-revolution protests. There are elders, business owners, journalists, students, homeless people, actors, teenagers, and children roaming the streets, joining protests that either celebrate the military occupation or denounce the ousting of Morsi. With enough factions and sides to make one’s head spin, Diab does an excellent job of demonstrating each sides viewpoints and beliefs.
But perhaps what Diab succeeds most in is his ability to humanize all to reveal the inherent compassion, tolerance and goodwill of ordinary people when faced with danger. Clash is a film that slowly and expertly begins shedding faction ideals, sides, and political affiliations to reveal the humanity in us all. What Diab seems to desperately attempting to signal to his audience is, in the end, arbitrary sociopolitical distinctions will lead to the demise of everyone involved.
Clash screened as part of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Catch it August 25 at the Village East Cinemas in New York City.