Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Square

Another last-minute-before-it-leaves-theaters posting, and I'm not sure whether I'm cutting it closer than I planned or less so. After all, I was going to see this on Monday, but with director Jehane Noujaim on hand, that sold out well before I could get there from work and get in using my usher membership. Then the plan was Wednesday, which meant I would have to turn a review around right quick in order to be able to post "hey, this is pretty great" before it left the Brattle Theatre after a week. Then the Regent Theatre canceled the Tuesday night screening of Black Out because, like most of the Boston area, they over-reacted to a storm that wound up depositing about three inches here. So I pushed seeing this up, even if I had trouble finding time to write afterward.

Fortunately, it's not quite a "see it tonight or be out of luck" situation; the Coolidge has picked it up for a week in their cozy little GoldScreen room, so folks should be able to see it there from the 24th to 30th, and possibly beyond. It's also on Netflix, but unfortunately not Amazon - understandable, what with Netflix being the distributor, although it may make seeing this Oscar nominee a little more difficult if you're like me and one of the last holdouts not using Netflix because, good lord, look at the pile of Blu-rays you haven't watched.

Still, you should see it, and not just so that you can maybe do a little better in your Oscar pool.

The Square (Al Midan)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 21 January 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (first-run, digital)

The Square doesn't necessarily look like much as it starts; just some people who happened to have a camera in the right place at the right time. Make no mistake, that is an incredibly useful thing for a documentary to have, and often produces the most memorable moment in that sort of movie, but is a foundation? Not usually. Most, though, don't (or can't) keep having the camera in the right place, either to continue capturing history or the personal narratives of the people involved, not to mention filmmakers who can assemble all of this into something that's more than just a series of events strung together.

Director Jehane Noujaim introduces us to six activists who were at the original January 2011 demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square right off the bat, though she does not spread attention evenly among them. Pierre Seyoufr and Aida Elkashef, for instance, will have recurring but minor roles in the film; musician Ramy Essam is somewhat more prominent, and not just because his protest songs liven the presentation up. The main focus falls upon three other men: Ahmed Hassan is a young man who has lived his entire life under Hosni Mubarak's corrupt regime and desires a true democracy; Magdy Ashour is a father of five and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood; and Khalid Abdalla is a British actor (best known for The Kite Runner) whose parents are Egyptian expatriates. And while their peaceful protests soon lead to Mubarak's resignation, the next step proves to be far more complicated and less friendly.

Noujaim's specialty is placing viewers right in the middle of a situation, and while there are some clips from new programs used to fill in a little more background, the majority is captured right in the thick of things, either in the midst of the action or in the subjects' homes. Sometimes Ahmed is the one holding the camera, sometimes Noujaim or one of a half-dozen other cinematographers and camera operators - some of whom are, themselves, part of the revolution, and likely recording not just to make a movie but in case video is needed as evidence. And while the claim is often made that good journalism means a strict separation between reporter and subject, the overlap here allows Nojaim to capture what is going on among the revolutionaries without filter. There is so little barrier that even when Ahmed or Khalid looks into the camera and speaks directly to the viewer, it does not feel like the interview footage with various army representatives, nor does it seem like breaking the fourth wall, making us included in the conversation rather than just privy to it.

Full review at EFC.

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