Dir.: Mohamed Diab; Cast: Nelly Karim, Hany Adel, Mohamed El Sebaey, Ahmed Dash, Mai El Ghaity, Ahmed Abdel Hameed; Egypt/France 2016, 98 min.
CLASH is a visual tour-de-force that occasionally loses the big picture in exploring the aftermath of the Muslim Brotherhood’s surge to power after Mubarek’s reign in Egypt. The action is literally crammed into a police prison van, where supporters of the just deposed president Mohamed Morsi and the Army generals who toppled him, go on fighting their street battles in this confined area, often resembling a crowded boxing ring, with hysteria and chaos the ruling elements.
In 2011 the regime of president Hosni Mubarek was swept aside, and a year later, Mohamed Morsi, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected as his successor. But by 2013, Morsi himself has been overthrown by an Army under the current president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. CLASH is set in the immediate aftermath of Morsi’s arrest, when his supporters still had a viable organisation to fight the new regime. Military police is unable to keep law and order, emotions are running high, and the MPs throw everyone suspect into the van, measuring eight square meters. First to go are the AP journalist Adam (Adel) and his photographer Zein (El Sebaey), who protest in vain their right to report and photograph the street fighting. But the mayhem escalates, and the MPs loose their cool, imprisoning right, left and centre, including their own supporters, who are celebrating Morsi’s overthrow. Nurse Nagwa (Karim) is the only one keeping a cool head, even though some men reject her help in the sweltering heat, not wanting to be touched by a woman. Nagwa’s teenage son Fares (Dash) is much more of a rabble-rouser, and joins the fray to the chagrin of his mother. A’isha (El Ghaity), an adolescent girl in a hijab, is very vociferous, but still cares for her elderly father who is suffering extremely from the heat. And there is even a good cop, Awad (Hameed), who tries to get as much water for the prisoners as possible. But it is impossible to cater for around 25 people, when the MPs also have to deal with the rioters outside who often outnumber them. The prison van is trying to get away from the riots, but in vain: soon it is questionable whether it’s safer inside or outside; particularly as laser beams are used by both rioting factions to unsettle the opponents, creating further havoc in the mobile prison.
DoP Ahmend Gabr (Asmaa) really conveys the escalating pandemonium, as fear takes over all sections in the van, and very soon engulfing the MPs too. The cast is equally admirable, the sheer force of their engagement is always visible. What is missing is a clear distinction between the factions: after all, people die, but we never learn the reasons for the overthrow of Morsi, nor do we get any insight in the ambivalent feelings of the demonstrators on both sides for each other: because only two years ago, the majority of them were fighting on the same side to do topple Mubarak. We only get a few dark hints, when Morsi supports talk about discipline in their own ranks, but apart from that, CLASH sometimes degenerates into a battle between two clans of football supporters, with petty and personal issues surging to the fore. But the bedlam we witness is symptomatic of the widespread internecine chaos that runs through Egyptian society – surely we deserve a more detailed explanation of. AS
ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 21 April 2017