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Review: A truckload of tension in Clash

Mohamed Diab’s gripping drama set entirely in an army van in Cairo 2013, after the fall of the Morsi regime

13 April, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Clash is an extraordinary piece of storytelling

Directed by Mohamed Diab
Certificate 12a

The chaotic streets of a capital city at war with itself is the backdrop to Clash, a superb Egyptian film that creates a tense narrative told through individuals caught up in a situation way beyond the control of an individual.

The story takes place in June 2013, in the days after the Muslim Brotherhood party had won an election and the Egyptian army stepped in to stop them taking power. You will recall the devastating, chaotic street protests, the end game of the occupation of Tahrir Square that saw the Morsi regime fall – and this film takes you into the heart of what ensued.

We begin with a camera shot bouncing about in the empty confines of an Army prison van. Sunlight comes in through the barred windows, and outside we can hear the muffled sounds of civil unrest.
The doors are thrown open, and two men – an Associated Press photographer and a journalist (Hani Adel and El Sabaii Mohamed) are roughly bundled in. Soldiers have no time to listen to their pleas that they are there simply at work and you can taste the fear from the reporters and the young conscripts who have detained them.

It is a tense opening – and sets the tone for an extraordinary piece of storytelling.

When the doors open again, we see a man dragged from a crowd and thrown in – quickly followed by his despairing wife Nagwa (Nelly Karim) and young son Faris (Ahmed Dash). And slowly the interior fills with pro-Army supporters scooped up by soldiers acting with impunity, and then MB protesters, and finally others in between who simply happen to have been on the streets as the protests grew.

The cast is superb, and a motley collection to show the wide, wide range of people sucked into this civil breakdown. We are not asked to take sides, nor identify with heroes. Instead, everyone is treated equally, caught up in a situation that the authorities seemingly have no control over and so react in a way that makes for seriously uncomfortable viewing.

By using the small and highly claustrophobic confines of a prison van, director Diab relies heavily on dialogue and characterisation (think 12 Angry Men’s jury room). And while some political debate goes on, this is predominantly a film with a message about how despite people holding widely differing views (or not having well-formed political ideas), we all have the same goals through our shared humanity, just different concepts of how to get there.

It is a powerful idea and one that doesn’t buckle under the weight of being mighty to chew over.
Add to this the tension as to what will happen to these people as the van goes through city riots, and a heavy reek of suspicion seeping through the heat inside, Clash has a gripping narrative.

Hats off to Diab for being able to cast and shoot such a story so soon after the events they are set in happened and having the ability to deal with raw, contemporary issues with understanding and vision.


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