CANNES 2016 – Clash (2016)


Clash is a film filled with shattering moments of aggression and violence, and yet the most crushing one comes, surprisingly, during a sudden instance of unity. Along with a number of detained demonstrators, we are trapped in the back of a police truck that’s travelling through the streets of Cairo on a hot summer’s evening in 2013. Just days earlier, the world saw the ouster of Islamist president Morsi, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and now the country has divided into two factions: those loyal to the Brotherhood on one side, and pro-army supporters on the other.

The men, women and children crammed with us inside the van are not all allies, many are fundamentally enemies, but now they find themselves brought together and willing to reconcile their differences – the futility of such destructive behaviour now weighing heavily on their shoulders, as they realise with horror that they are all ultimately fighting for the same outcome. While the world burns outside, here, albeit for the briefest of moments, is a haven of harmony in the middle of a hellish landscape.

Journey back to the beginning of the day, however, and the atmosphere within this roving detention centre was of a more combative nature. Two journalists with the associated press (Hany Adel & Mohamed El Sebaey) are the first captives, simply accused of appearing suspicious to the police. And soon enough this unsettled paranoia spreads throughout the security ranks, the van filling with detainees, including a secular family (Nelly Karim, Tarek Abdel Aziz and Ahmed Dash), a couple of friends out celebrating Morsi’s removal (Ahmed Malek & Husni Sheta), and a teenage girl (Mai El Ghaity) who’s accompanied by her elderly imam father; the diverse assortment of inhabitants representative of the conflicted Egyptian public.

Director Mohamed Diab is no stranger when it comes to confronting the pressing issues concerning his homeland’s society – his previous film, Cairo 678, focused on the sexual harassment of women in Egypt. And here he boldly captures the widespread brutality of the Arab Winter with a complex and ferocious urgency; it would certainly make for a perfect companion piece to Jehane Noujaim’s Netflix documentary The Square, which covered the Arab Spring from the viewpoint of the Egyptian revolution.

Here Diab thrusts his audience into the centre of a horrifying reality, Ahmed Gabr’s camera capturing the tyrannical claustrophobia of the truck itself with a rigorous intensity that’s inherently cinematic, but never creatively embellished. The lens never leaves the boundaries of the paddy wagon, and instead offers visceral glimpses of suffering and unrest that’s set against a backdrop of streets crumbling under the weight of conflict.

The road travelled is occasionally too melodramatically bumpy: Diab’s script, collaborated on with his brother Khaled, momentarily struggling to overcome the chaotic environment – although rounded performances from the ensemble ensure the writer/director never looses control.

What’s truly commendable though, is the filmmaker’s ideological approach, which favours passion for the craft and emotional profundity, over political agenda. In Diab’s eyes there is no right or wrong within this story of broken society, there is only war; for peace is a symbol of hope, and that appears to have already been lost.

Director: Mohamed Diab
Writers: Khaled Diab, Mohamed Diab
Stars: Hani Adel, Nelly Karim, Tarek Abdel Aziz

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

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