Whoa. Just came out of Clash, a film about the 2013 Egyptian riots following the military overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood presidency installed after the fall of Mubarak, but shot entirely within the back of one police van. It basically spans a day and a night all within one claustrophobic location, as supporters of the army, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, journalists, bystanders and police all struggle to survive til dawn.

It leaves you breathless. It is really, really well crafted. This is the best film I’ve seen at the festival so far.

It would be very easy, in a film with a dozen characters, to make them very two-dimensional. Everybody have their “thing”. But both the writing and the acting make them feel very real and natural. Even the guy who’s obviously comic relief feels believable as a person.

The film’s not really there to make a political statement, but to show the absolute madness of one night. How real people’s lives were pulled and in some cases destroyed in this battle of them versus us. In such a setup, it’d be easy to go after-school special, make it a Breakfast Club on wheels, in which people start very invested in their labels, then realised they’ve both got an uncle with alopecia or whatever and gradually come to understand that the differences they have between them are far smaller than the similarities that unite them, and kumbaya. But it’s much more complex than that. It’s about a succession of moments in which you find commonalities or conflicts, a unity in one context and division in another. Life is a succession of these moments and it’s highly circumstantial who you call your “tribe”.

I also like how they showed the police. Folk out protesting in support of the army are among the first thrown in the van. Watching folk chanting, “The people and the police are united” as they get whacked and thrown in the back of a van. That’s what ye get, son. The police are the “villains” of the piece for the first half of the film, chucking folk in this van and leaving them to faint in what essentially is a tin can sat out in the midday sun. They don’t give them water, don’t give them medical aid, and let an old man die at one point. But as the day goes on, it shows the police losing control of the situation more and more, and you see them as frightened people, having their pals hurt and killed and not knowing where the next attack is coming from, seeing everyone as the enemy. At one point, one cop does try to help the people in the back of the van and only backs off when a gun is held to his head by his commanding officer, reminding him he is disobeying orders during what is essentially war, and he is committing treason. One soldier points out he’s only there because of conscription, and he was afraid to refuse and be sent to jail. Ultimately no one has any control on this night, no allegiance or badge or party or status is going to protect anybody.

The film is just relentless and I left feeling like I’d had my legs kicked out from under me. Definitely one to watch.

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