You know that feeling you get when you watch a movie for the first time and the phone gets put down, you get tunnel-vision and it feels like you’re floating? The Square did that to me.
Documenting two years in Cairo, from the beginning of the revolution against Hosni Mubarak until the last year’s troubles with Mohamed Morsi and The Muslim Brotherhood, The Square was a very powerful and moving piece of documentary filmmaking.
One of the great things about this film was how it balanced seemingly truthful objectivity, all while presenting a very cinematic arc for the story. We are introduced to the main protagonists, which the film followed from January 2011 until August 2013; Magdy, Ahmed, Khalid (who is a British-Egyptian actor), Ramy and Ragia. They were a small part of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who peacefully protested at Tahir Square in Cairo in early 2011 – this was the epicentre of the Revolution to overthrow Hosni Mubarak, a dictator that ruled Egypt with a tyranny unfortunately common-place across North Africa and the Middle East at the time.
To say that The Square was harrowing, powerful and deeply moving is an understatement; this film barreled along at an amazing pace, but still managed to touch on both the hope of the revolutionaries, as well as the heinous crimes committed by the army and gangs of thugs against peaceful protestors, with enough maturity and candidness for it to be very effective; there was nothing cloying about what was seen and heard, it’s just raw emotions that really jump out of the screen.
The revolution in Egypt, and the whole Arab Spring in general, was a defining moment in the history of North Africa and the Middle East, as well as being one of the most important socio-political events of this millennium. What really shone through here was how the camaraderie between the revolutionaries rapidly descended into rival factions, all with different ideologies, fighting each other; the people united against one tyrant and ended up with a situation in which the country felt a violent power vacuum. All of this – all of the horrific imagery of brutality and death – was captured by a camera crew on the frontline; nothing was censored, and it was painful seeing how the Army swore they wouldn’t use violence against the peaceful protestors yet ended up doing exactly that, and with deadly results. Furthermore, what is seen proves that the daily news outlets we read and watch everyday are sterile, agenda-ridden mouthpieces that avoid the finding the truth; it’s testament to the filmmakers that they present the real story of Tahir Square, the revolution and the real people and what drove them to fight; they just wanted democracy and were willing to die for it.
The Square was a fantastic, emotive experience, is fully deserving of its Oscar nomination for Best Documentary, and is streaming for free on Netflix.