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Glasgow Film Festival 2017 Review: Clash

"Intense, political and sociological"

Playing as a part of the Pioneer Section at the Glasgow Film Festival, Clash is a bold and taut film that shows Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Diab is a talent to watch out for.

Set in 2013 during the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood government, Clash takes places in the back of a police van where citizens of different political beliefs and social classes are rounded up because of their taking part in the riots. The different people clash amongst themselves and with the police and we see the violence erupt on the streets.
clash 2016 still
Clash came into the GFF with a lot of a praise: it opened the Un Certain Regard section of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and Egypt’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards – although it wasn’t nominated. This praise is well-deserved and Clash shows what a director can do with a limited setting: focusing on the characters and their dynamics together, while also showing the political situation and intense moments of political violence.

Movies like Lebanon and 12 Angry Men were clearly influences on Clash: they are films in small settings that act as microcosms of their respective societies. They use their small settings to their fullest and, like Lebanon, the characters in Clash can view events from their respective vehicles. Within the van, people are split between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the military, rich and poor, modern and conservatives and their respective conflicts boil over readily – just like events outside of the van.
clash - water cannon
Diab focused on small groups within the van that contained 20 people – making them all easily identifiable: there are the parents who wanted their young son to see the revolution, the conservative teenage girl who puts up a tough front but changes when she sees the reality of the situation, two older men who are looking for their sons, three young friends from the wealthy areas of Cairo and how one of them befriends a homeless man. There is a lot for audiences to sink their teeth into.

As well as the religious divide between people, there is also a class divide, the wealthy people in the van support the military and have a more Western outlook, like the three young men who style their hair and wear modern T-Shirts (one of them even has a T-Shirt that says ‘F*ck this shit’). The poor people have a more conservative sense of dress, especially the older members of that group. Although not everyone falls into these broad outlooks: the homeless man supports the military, while the teenage girl dresses in a traditional black khimar. Despite all their differences one thing unites; their dislike for an Egyptian-born American journalist.
clash - arrest
The people in the van were also forced to work together when danger occurred – like the risk from the midday heat and when tear gas is being thrown during a riot. Friendships also form across their social divides, one of the biggest is between Nagwa (Nelly Karim) whose compassion outweighs her politics when supporting A’isha (May Elghety). There are also moments of tranquillity within the van with one of them singing ‘The Skull Song’ and others laughing along. Clash does balance its heavier material with small moments of comedy and it is the type of humor people would come up with amongst themselves with one of the characters acting as the joker of the group.

The police, for all their brutality, also showed humanity: even the harsh lead officer who looked like Saddam Hussein showed he had some emotions when one of his colleagues is shot. It was a scene remnant to one towards the end of Lebanon. The police officers loose friends because of the violence and some of the police are willing to defy orders because they do not want to see their prisoners to needlessly suffer.
clash - i predict a riot
As well as being like Lebanon and 12 Angry Men, Clash has the air of a Paul Greengrass film, an openly political film that looks at the people in these testing times. Diab used Greengrass’ handheld style to give Clash an almost documentary style to the movie, although Diab actually hired people who knew how to handle a camera and understood that editing doesn’t mean cutting every half-second. A great little touch was when the camera moved as two characters were talking and when it seems to move to see which one of them responds it swings back to the original speaker: it looked like an ordinary person trying to capture the moment. There are also great little details within the van, like a previous inmate scratching their name into the wall.

This filming style was effective when showing the actions outside of the van, when the people battle MB protesters in a tight side street, the police face off against a sniper and the nightly battles with MB rioters who rained down rocks, firebombs and laser-pointers at the police and their vans. It was intense for the characters, made worse because they only have a limited view of the outside world and that any little sound could be anything: a gun, a bomb or simply something like a firework.

Clash can serve as a lesson for any emerging filmmaking on how to make a film that is visually engaging; a character driven drama in a limited setting. There is plenty for audiences craving a character piece and a political film.

Rating
9.5
Pros
  • Great use of a limited setting
  • Character driven
  • A great examination of Egyptian politics and society
  • Moments of intense action
Cons
  • Some off-kilter humor

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