Fans of Egyptian director Mohamed Diab will be aware of his previous work Cairo 678 and his contemporary take on Egyptian culture and society. His latest film, Clash (Eshtebak) has been applauded for capturing the aftermaths of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. Choosing to film completely within a police van allows the film to be personal yet claustrophobic, as well as expansive by driving around the city between protests and riots.
Set around the protests for and against the Muslim Brotherhood Party in 2011 shortly after President Morsi had been ousted, the film keeps the audience up to speed with the different factions in Egypt at the time. Starting off with the arrest of two Associated Press journalists mistaken for Muslim Brotherhood members who serve as our guides through the chaos, they find themselves untrusted by supporters of the police, the army and the Muslim Brotherhood alike. The reporters have their equipment confiscated without much reasoning or any method of finding out how to get it back; luckily one has a camera watch and secretly films the events as they unfold.
The van is quickly cramped with prisoners, mostly men – there are only two girls in the van, a mother who asks to be arrested so she can join her husband and son, and a teenage girl with her father. The fact that there are two children in the van doesn’t perturb the police and underlines their dedication to their orders before common sense. A few of the protesters sneak a phone into the van, conspiring to call a family member with enough connections to get them freed.
It doesn’t take long before the factions start to pick on each other, insults and tensions rise, no-one can seem to trust the other but they all fear the police officers who regularly exert excessive force. There’s a point where the protesters find a common ground: their fear of the police and the Egyptian heat.
Despite only being filmed inside the police van, we get some imaginative and interesting shots of the inside of the van as well as the surroundings when they’re driven towards the police station. From the seething riots to the mundane traffic jams, it’s an interesting picture of a country at odds with itself. The unique visuals culminate when it reaches night and the protesters use laser pens to disorient and mark out routes for those on the ground; the flashes of green amongst the fire and ash would be reminiscent of a concert if it weren’t for the bricks thrown towards the police van.
Coming in at just an hour and thirty minutes, Clash is rather short, but still unhindered in its narrative intention to point out the similarities between these factions rather than their differences. It is a testament to the script (also written by Mohammed Diab) that as novices to Egyptian politics you can quickly get your bearings, sympathise with everyone involved and the unfortunate predicament they find themselves in. Rough and claustrophobic, pulling the audience into the conflict and leaving them there, Clash is an eye-opening experience of the Egyptian political conflict.
Words by Sunny Ramgolam
Clash is out in UK cinemas on April 21