Crowds cheer joyfully in central Cairo, Egypt.Acclaimed doc director Jehane Noujaim follows 3 men intimately involved in the “Egyptian Chapter” of the Arab Spring” (Khalid Abdalla, Magdy Ashour, & Ahmed Hassan) as their hopes for a peaceful citizen-lead revolution are crushed by political realities.

While we applaud Noujaim’s access & first person footage, we left without actually learning anything new. We had hoped for more coherent analysis from the director who taught us so much in prior docs like Control Room, & Rafea: Solar Mama. (JLH: 3/5)

Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku.

Q: Does this film pass the Bechdel Test? No. Despite the major role women played–at least initially–in the Egyptian Spring, women play very minor roles in The Square 🙁


Full Disclosure: I am not at my best with “fly on the wall” documentaries which set their cameras down somewhere & take me there to “see for myself.” Maybe that’s because I know that I’m seeing a very small slice of the actual footage that was shot, so even though everything I see is “real” enough, it’s also heavily edited. Bottom Line: If what I’m really seeing is someone’s POV, then I want that to be explicit.

In this particular case, I think I would have learned more if Noujaim had selected one of her protagonists (either Khalid Abdalla or Magdy Ashour or Ahmed Hassan), and told the same story through his eyes. Much of the actual on screen footage would still have been the same (since the three men interact so frequently), but then coming in & out of “the story” might have made more sense to me. Instead, I was constantly asking myself what was happening off screen:

* where was Khalid Abdalla’s father (the man he is always updating on Skype)…? Was he in England & if so, did Khalid travel back & forth or had he decided to put his career on hold “indefinitely” for the duration of the protests?

* how was Magdy Ashour feeding his large family if he was always at Tahrir Square & never working…? Are we to assume he was receiving subsidies from the Muslim Brotherhood?

* how did Ahmed Hassan’s family feel about his activities…? What happened inside the home after he left to head back to Tahrir Square?

The Square covers a long duration (well over a year), but I never had any coherent sense of daily life beyond the shifting hopes & dreams of the protesters in the street. I left full of admiration of the courage of the filmmakers who had taken me “there,” but the “heat” they had captured on camera shed very little light.

As I think about all this, perhaps that is the story? Maybe, over time, the protests in Tahrir Square had less & less to do with the real lives of ordinary Egyptians, & more & more to do with the frustrations of young men stoked by rage who had no better outlet for their energies? Despite all the grand rhetoric, maybe there never really was “a plan” beyond the overthrow of Mubarak? As we leave 2013 & prepare to enter 2014, the need for light over heat grows ever larger.


Top Photo: Young revolutionaries flood Tahrir Square in Cairo.

Middle Photo: Khalid Abdalla (l) & Ahmed Hassan (r) celebrate an early victory.

Bottom Photo: As the face of “revolution” turns ever more male, the protesters generate lots of heat but not much light.

Photo Credits: Jehane Noujaim

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