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Jasmin Valjas

Egyptian feature Esthebak (The Clash) opens Un Certain Regard with a blinding clash, and the section promises to be gripping. There are no half measures in director Mohamed Diab’s depiction of the violence and chaos in Cairo in 2013: the revolution and its bloody protests put the Egyptian population into an all-against-all conflict. With a steady gaze (metaphorically speaking – the camera rocks and struggles amongst the characters, leaving the spectator with no escape), Diab captures the inhuman treatment of imprisoned protestors, from different factions, caught in the back of a police truck and forced to face each other’s contrasting beliefs and convictions.

With airless and cramped angst, the blurriness of the divisions is made evident, as the vehicle stops, proceeds, breaks down… The variety of characters is admirable, painting a highly diverse picture of Egyptian society, including all cliques, social groups and religious divisions. All differences are stirred up and the human truckload constantly risks devolving into absolute war.

The camerawork successfully conveys the claustrophobia the characters experience: one of the unlikely crowd stacked in the police truck, the viewer is continuously thrown from side to side – both metaphorically and literally – as the physical struggle pervades the film from beginning to end.

What could have a potentially mind-blowing ...

Egyptian feature Esthebak (The Clash) opens Un Certain Regard with a blinding clash, and the section promises to be gripping. There are no half measures in director Mohamed Diab’s depiction of the violence and chaos in Cairo in 2013: the revolution and its bloody protests put the Egyptian population into an all-against-all conflict. With a steady gaze (metaphorically speaking – the camera rocks and struggles amongst the characters, leaving the spectator with no escape), Diab captures the inhuman treatment of imprisoned protestors, from different factions, caught in the back of a police truck and forced to face each other’s contrasting beliefs and convictions.

With airless and cramped angst, the blurriness of the divisions is made evident, as the vehicle stops, proceeds, breaks down… The variety of characters is admirable, painting a highly diverse picture of Egyptian society, including all cliques, social groups and religious divisions. All differences are stirred up and the human truckload constantly risks devolving into absolute war.

The camerawork successfully conveys the claustrophobia the characters experience: one of the unlikely crowd stacked in the police truck, the viewer is continuously thrown from side to side – both metaphorically and literally – as the physical struggle pervades the film from beginning to end.

What could have a potentially mind-blowing analysis arising from the proximity of so many divergent factions isn’t, however, fully developed into the political discussion it could have generated. Instead, screaming and pushing take up all the space. Probably communicating the physical harshness of the protests, the film unfortunately doesn’t go much further than the surface, or the name, of the enemy clans. There is often too much shouting and shoving to think clearly and reflect on the problems brought up.

The brutality of the revolution is pictured without ever looking away from the bloodshed, whichever side it may be on, but (with a few perhaps too hopeful feel-good moments), the human dynamics are what surface above all. This arguably justifies the lack of political explanation, but risks relegating the main problem to one among the many issues. Nonetheless, Eshtebak is certainly an interesting portrait of a precarious situation that must be faced, and then further reflected upon.

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