Title: “The Square”
Director: Jehane Noujaim
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
In 2011, the people of Egypt took to Tahrir Square to protest the thirty year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. And it worked. Eventually, Mubarak agreed to step down. The filmmakers of “The Square” chronicle the protests of what is now referred to as the Egyptian Revolution, following a select group of friends and their personal journeys and perspectives during the events captured on film.
To say this is an important film is an understatement. While not what started the Arab Spring, the Egyptian Revolution is often held up as the main example of it. The story this film tells is the disquiet among the nation’s youth with the old military leadership, as well as shows the clashes many had with the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, at one point when the filmmakers returned to Egypt to update their previous footage, the second revolution which ousted Mohamed Morsi, then president, occurred.
In addition, “The Square” happens to be a Netflix property (where it’s available to watch at the time of this writing), which makes this whole thing very new. It is the first Netflix movie to be nominated for an Oscar.
What makes this film unique is that, instead of following the politicians or leaders, or simply using news clip or random people, this film follows a select group of normal people who participated in the protests. It’s a ground-level view not just of revolution but of nation-building as Egypt attempts to find its feet after thirty years of dictatorial and oppressive rule. As Khalid Abdalla, the star of “The Kite Runner” and one of the protesters that “The Square” follows, states, “Politics is not the same as a revolution. If you want to play politics, you have to compromise. And we’re not good at this, at all.”
The film also shows how, even among a group of friends that are protesting together, there can be a huge difference of opinion on where the country needs to go. After Mubarak leaves office and the Muslim Brotherhood begins to flex its political muscle, the group becomes divided. One of the people the film follows is Magdy Ashour, a member of the Brotherhood, who wants his friends to give them the benefit of the doubt, but begins to doubt his own political allegiance when there are reports of violence and questioning whether his own son may be buying into their more extreme elements. His story is probably the most heartbreaking of all.
If I have a complaint, it would be the editing. The film sometimes jumps between scenes and viewpoints without explanation, and it gives the audience the feeling that they’re missing something. It would have been nice to see some smoother transitions between people, as well as some extra background on these events. “The Square” assumes a certain familiarity with the Egyptian Revolution and global politics, but those who haven’t paid attention may feel a bit lost. The filmmakers attempt to put some context to the events they show, but if you’re looking for detailed context, you’ll have to do your own research (I’ve tried to provide some relevant link in this review).
A film of immediate importance, “The Square” gives the important ground-level view of the events in Egypt over the last few years. It is also a call to protest injustice and demand freedom around the world. While not perfect, it is still an excellent documentary of current events, and I would be curious if the filmmakers intend to continue following up with their subjects as the situation in Egypt continues to unfold.
“The Square” earns 4 out of 5 stars.