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The Square review: power from the people

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The Square green light Ahmed Hassan

This is history firsthand, in progress, and unfinished. An invaluable record of revolutionary spirit, and of the lengths to which a threatened leadership will go to preserve itself.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

We watched it on the news, but we never got the full story. (We never do.) On and off between late 2010 and 2013, thousands of protesters against “injustice, corruption, poverty, ignorance” filled Tahrir Square in Cairo, first demanding that despotic leader Hosni Mubarak step down, then to push for the change that the army leadership that took over promised and hadn’t delivered, then for free and fair elections, then against the even more dictatorial Mohammed Morsi, who won an election and granted himself pharaohic powers beyond what even Mubarak had. The fight for a democratic Egypt is far from over, which is part of what makes The Square so dynamic and so riveting. This is history firsthand, in progress, and unfinished, as Egyptian filmmaker Jehane Noujaim — who makes amazing documentaries such as Rafea: Solar Mama and Control Room — walks among the revolutionaries, in the square and beyond, to let them tell their stories in their own voices, from their own unfiltered perspectives. We meet Ahmed Hassan, who narrates much of the film and takes us on the roller coaster of emotion he and his fellow dissidents have been riding, from the despair over their country “living without dignity” to the exuberance and camaraderie of the early protests in the square, where “we were all equal” and all unified — there were lots of women among the crowd, too — to later, when the people lost the initial support of the army and the Muslim Brotherhood “stole the revolution,” and discord was sown among the protesters and violence erupted. Harrowing on-the-ground footage — including horrifying video of tanks running down unarmed men and women — and testimony from those beaten and tortured by police and army make this difficult to watch in spots. But it needs to be seen. One of Noujaim’s other subjects is U.K.-born actor Khalid Abdalla, who returned to his ancestral country to use the fame he garnered thanks to roles in films such as Green Zone, The Kite Runner, and United 93, to bring some corporate-media attention on the hopes and frustrations of ordinary Egyptians… but we see here how little we saw at all. From heated political arguments in the street to secular Muslims expressing their embarrassment at the religious-based oppression by the newly powerful Brotherhood, this is a sharp warning to the powerful not to mess with the people that will resonate with anyone anywhere. No matter what the eventual outcome for Egypt is, this is an invaluable record of that spirit, and of the lengths to which a threatened leadership will go to preserve itself.


A slightly shorter version of The Square did festival rounds in 2013, and is shortlisted for an Oscar. This longer version debuts in U.K. cinemas this weekend, and in select U.S. and Canadian theaters starting January 17th; see the official site for dates and cities. It will debut on Netflix across all territories on January 17th.

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US/Canada release date: Jan 17 2014 (Netflix same day) (shorter version, Oscar-qualifying: Oct 25 2013) | UK release date: Jan 10 2014

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated CYHYPS: can you hear the people sing?
MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated 15 (contains strong language, strong real violence and injury detail)

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  • RogerBW

    Even when we have honest journalists, news editors always want to distill every story into the Good Guys versus the Bad Guys.

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