Director: Mohamed Diab
Cast: Nelly Karim, Hany Adel, Tarek Abdel Aziz, Ahmed Malek, Ahmed Dash, Husni Sheta, Aly Eltayeb, Amr El Kady, Mohamed Abd El Azim, Gameel Barsoum, Ashraf Hamdy, Mohamed Tarek, Ahmed Abdel Hameed, Waleed Abdel Ghany, Mai El Ghaity, Mohamed El Sebaey, Mohamed Abu Elsoa'ud, Mohamed Salah, Mohamed Radwan, Mohamed El Souisy
Running Time: 1:37
Release Date: 8/25/17 (limited); 9/15/17 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | September 14, 2017
Set against the political turmoil of Egypt in 2013 and within the back of a police truck, Clash is a claustrophobic drama that doesn't point fingers. It's too ashamed of the situation to blame any specific person or group for what is happening. There's plenty of blame to go around, but when everything has devolved into chaos, what's the point of assigning responsibility?
Instead, the film, co-written and directed by Mohamed Diab, watches in horror as the people of a country are turned against each other, the government is turned against the people, and the most public-facing agents of that government have to decide between their duty and their basic humanity. No one comes out a winner in this conflict, save, perhaps, for the unseen, unmentioned men in charge of the government. Considering the upheaval Egypt saw following the overthrow of 30-year president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, one has to wonder if it's even possible to determine which person or people are responsible for the government's response.
The people in the truck certainly don't appear to be aware. If they are, they have more pressing concerns about which to worry, such as whether or not they'll survive being confined in a small space, with only several small windows, in the blaring heat of an Egyptian day.
They come from different walks of life, possess different opinions on the future of the country, and hold different positions in the political sphere. One man is homeless, while the rest are at least making it to varying degrees. Some want an Islamic state, such as the one they believed was promised with the election of their candidate to the presidency of Egypt in 2012. He was overthrown, too. Others are organized in protest against the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), especially after that president's reign, and some simply want to live their lives in a country that allows them to do so. There's a group of MB officials and some non-due-paying supporters, and there are semi-official protestors against them.
The back of the truck serves as a microcosm of the political divide of the time, as MB members rally together to plan something and the protestors try to convince the police that they're on the side of ending the MB in Egypt. Most of the people in the truck sit silently. They may have an opinion on politics—enough to choose a side if necessary. In general, though, they just want out of the truck.
That's the one opinion that they all share. They also don't trust the two journalists who are in the truck—the first to be detained for taking pictures of the police as they deal with a group of protestors. Adam (Hani Adel) is a reporter—Egyptian born but an immigrant to the United States. Zein (El Sebaii Mohamed) is a local photographer. As the back of the truck fills with more and more detainees, all of the political folks believe that the journalists are traitors to each of their causes. It doesn't matter that such a belief doesn't make sense, because such outrage at an "other" is what has brought Egypt to its current state here.
Some of the others include Nagwa (Nelly Karim), who's with her husband Hossam (Tarek Abdel Aziz) and teenage son Fares (Ahmed Dash), and Omar (Ashraf Hamdi), a local MB leader who divides the truck into those opposed and those loyal to his cause—further dividing the second group into those who pay the party fees and those who don't. At first, there's a lot of yelling—words like "traitor" are tossed freely—and shoving, with a razor blade being produced at one point.
The arguing and fighting stops when a sniper appears, shooting at the police. Some of the MB members cheer him on, while the leaders insist that the shooter is a plant, meant to make the organization look bad. It stops when they spot another truck, filled with about 50 people. Some of the detainees were separated. Others have family members who are missing and wonder if someone in the other truck knows what happened to them. The people in other truck can't breathe, and the police don't particularly care about that fact. To be fair, a few do: One, who is prepared to release Faris and the 14-year-old A'isha (Mai El Ghaity), is shot by the sniper, and anyone who speaks up for the prisoners is threatened at gunpoint for thinking about disobeying orders.
Nobody seems to have a firm opinion or any facts here. It's all outrage—at the police, at their political opponents, at the country itself. The easy route would be for the film to follow suit—to find a similar outrage. Diab (who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Khaled Diab) doesn't side with or against anyone, though (There are even those examples of decency within the police ranks, as useless as that sense of decency turns out to be in the face of a thoughtless, order-following machine). If anything, the filmmaker is on the side of humanity. As vague and wishy-washy as that sentiment may sound, it works in this context, with these characters, and within this confined space, where death—by nature, by the police, or by the violence of a group of protestors—looks more and more inevitable.
The chaos escalates, but Diab and cinematographer Ahmed Gabr's camera remains locked in the truck with the characters, capturing scenes of violence through the windows and out the back door. There's a palpable sense of helplessness to this approach, but the ultimate point of Clash comes in its final sequence—a terrible bit of irony in which the prison becomes a fortress. Inside is the humanity these people have come to represent. Outside is the destructive political force that had divided them. Those are the sides that matter.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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