Rocks, bullets, insults, fists and just about anything else you can imagine, reign down from all sides, as we are thrown right into the centre of a post-revolution Egypt and the madness that ensues. Mohamed Diab’s debut feature Clash is frenetic almost from the very first moment the brief introduction fades from the screen. It’s a visceral experience that transcends its fictional roots into something far more relevant to the state of Egypt right now.
The idea behind Diab’s film couldn’t be simpler, effectively turning a battered Egyptian police van into a microcosm of the country as a whole. We are taken back to 2013, a period where Egypt had descended into chaos following the removal of President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years in power. An Islamic party, the Muslim Brotherhood, installed Mohamed Morsi as the new President. Protests and clashes continued on an unprecedented scale, resulting in the removal of Morsi by the military. The conflicts continued between the MB and military supporters, and Diab places us right in the heart of that ticking time bomb.
It starts with the arrest of two journalists, as their pleas of innocence fall upon the deaf ears of the officers. Their attempts to attract the help of nearby demonstrators horribly backfires. The small crowd pelt the vehicle with rocks once they learn they are reporters, believing them to MB propagandists. The police quickly arrive and throw them into the back of the small van, alongside the very people they were assaulting. Before long, the old van is packed with MB and military supporters, children, women, ordinary youths and even police. Most of whom are on the verge of tearing each other’s eyes out.
Tensions inside the van continue to rise as the vehicle slowly moves through the baking hot streets of Egypt, the police unable to find available space in a nearby prison. Diab's DP, Ahmed Gabr, does an amazing job of maximising the dimensions of the vehicle, despite never once stepping foot outside. All the while, he manages to retain an unnerving sense of claustrophobia, while expanding the space during the precious few moments of calm provided to its inhabitants. We are taken to the barred windows and doorway entrance to grab snatches of the bedlam taking place outside. While green laser pointers are fired back inside by the rioting crowds, turning an already dark reality into an apocalyptic style horror.
So close are we to these people, that the levels of hysteria feels somewhat overwhelming at times. Bodies are thrown together and pitched around the confines of the van, or sent clamouring for cover as hell-fire pelts down on them from every conceivable angle, losing control of our senses. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the film is how it handles such an intensely divisive subject with so much care. The script was written by Diab and his brother Khaled, and refuses to take sides in the conflict. Instead it draws on the humanity they are forced to share in such an insane situation. Humour, physical ailments, family and even football create connections between age groups and gender lines.
The director faced huge criticism upon its release in his home country, despite the humanisation of everyone involved, including the police. Such is the ongoing divide created by a country now almost exclusively military owned. A few years ago, Jehane Noujaim's documentary, The Square, provided a unique insight into the Egyptian revolution, capturing events as they happened. Clash gives us an even broader view of Egypt, and its fictional perspective brings home a shocking reality.