THIS frighteningly realistic, politically and religiously charged film from second-time director Mohamed Diab (Cairo 678) takes an up-close-and-personal look at what happened in 2013 after Egyptian President Morsi, a member of Islamist party the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), was forcibly removed from power by the military following the largest protests in Egyptian history.
Rather extraordinarily the entire film takes place in one solitary location, the confines of a police van in which an unjustly arrested group of people are herded together, left to clash amongst themselves, threatened and hosed down if things get out of hand. They include people from all degrees of social backgrounds, some pro-MB and some vehemently anti, mixed with neutral citizens with no affiliation but simply a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time in a country they love that’s torturously at war with itself.
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Crucially the group also includes two Associated Press journalists, the first to be detained within the police truck, there to capture the political unrest but looked upon with untrusting eyes as potential spies. “An activist dies for a cause not a photo,” one says. “Sometimes a photo can be the cause,” the other replies.
Diab’s film is an incredibly raw and angry experience, with a potent way of getting across its points about loyalty, us and them mentality and the violent conflict that inevitably arises from religiously-fueled revolution. His accomplished hand-held camera approach, coupled with uncomfortably long takes, imbues the drama with palpable urgency, gritty realism and sustained unpredictability.
It’s a film that cleverly constructs the outward tensions that have bubbled over into full on city-wide riots, attempted to be controlled by armed police, into a constricted melting pot single location in which the film’s fitting title takes on many meanings: the clash of power, religion, morality, ideals, generational differences and slivers of humanity in the face of cruelty and injustice.
All the while we’re left to witness the horrors unfold outside from between the bars on the windows.