The film begins with a static shot from within the van we will be confined in for the entirety of this 98 minute film. As the van drives to its destination, the blistering sunlight enters through its tiny windows and pans around the van’s walls. Words appear on the screen, setting up the story: in 2011, after the Egyptian revolution, Hosni Mubarak resigned after 30 years of presidency. Following which, Muslim Brotherhood (MB) candidate Mohammed Morsi was elected president. Now in 2013, the police retain much power and Egypt has been in a state of constant unrest and protest for months now, peaking with the June 2013 protests which resulted in the coup d’état of President Morsi. Those 3 days are said to be the largest protests in Egypt’s history (with upper-estimates of 14 million people) – this in one such day.
The greatest success of the film is Mohamed Diab’s (the director) ability to answer the question: how do you depict a civil war from the point of view of civilians on either and neither side of the conflict? It’s in the interactions between the characters and the interplay of beliefs and agendas. One-by-one, the vehicle is filled with two associated press journalists, a few non-MB protesters, a few more MB protestors, even two members of the militant occupying police force.
Clash, like its name suggests, is about the clashing ideologies of these different groups, all catalysed by the hot and cramped confines of the van. However another success of the film is that it finds time to explore the captives growing empathy and understanding for one another – as the conditions worsen and survival becomes a growing instinct, the opposing groups begin to work together, they even share a single moment of solace, in laughing and singing together. These small moments change the film from one which merely dissects and analyses the growing rifts in the Egyptian population, to a film which is also about a common human want, in this case a want for freedom, and a want to remove injustice from society and government.
It is difficult for a sheltered Brit like myself to review a film like this, it being difficult to digest entirely – it is an intensely uncomfortable film, precisely what it should be, might I add!
Walking out, attempting to organise my scattered feelings on the film, after a brutal and totalitarian ending (which I will not ruin), an overwhelming thought came over me. It made me feel guilty about being able to walk through the (comparatively) safe streets of London, to my safe flat, without fear of civil war and violent protest. This thought was obviously brought on by the contrast between the world presented on screen and the world I know – which is a testament to the film’s ability to be deeply immersive, along with its upsetting and traumatic realism. Diab is currently one of the most exciting Arab filmmakers, Clash being a full-display of his nerve and artistry.
Clash – being foreign, ‘serious’, and political – is unfortunately just the type of film which will likely be seen by too few for its message to get the reach it deserves.
DP Ahmed Gabr does a fantastic job of making the film deeply unbeautiful, with a near-constant feeling of discomfort, and yet also adds selected moments of beauty – for example, when MB protestors attack the van, and shine green lasers through the windows, which scatter and flare off the fearful faces of the captives.
This film could easily have been brutally unforgiving in its depiction of humanity. However, with small moments of empathy, Clash finds the right balance between sugar-coating history and authoritarian cynicism. I’m glad the film wasn’t all bleak (which it easily could have been, in service to the many stories you hear of people dying in the back of police vans in Egypt). Although I’m also glad it didn’t overstep the mark in pushing its idealistic message – rewriting history in doing so. It is a highly accurate depiction of a modern day humanitarian crisis which we all need to educate ourselves on.
It premiered to acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival on 12 May 2016, and was officially selected as Egypt’s candidate for the Best Foreign film Oscar. Despite this it took almost a year for the film to get distribution in the UK and US, after which it will be finally released on 21st April in the UK, and on 3rd May in the US – both to limited cinemas.
Just see this film/5 stars