Shrewsbury, Massachusetts- Documentaries are one of my favorite forms of the film medium. Powerful and revealing films are vastly overlooked in theatrical releases. Thanks to online streaming sites like Netflix, there is a sort of hub for documentaries to live and hope to be discovered. Four out of five of the Oscar nominees for Best Documentary are already on Netflix (The Act of Killing, Cutie and the Boxer, Dirty Wars, and The Square). Tonight I watched the one Netflix premiered exclusively.
In Egypt corrupt politicians and warlords unleash havoc onto the Egyptian people. Under the command of the ruthless Mubarak, thousands are tortured and killed. In 2011, the people sought to change that and gathered in the square of Tahrir to protest Mubarak’s rough policies. The revolutionaries succeed in getting Mubarak out of power, but their troubles are only just beginning. The revolutionaries struggle to transition into a new government and the square they once called home begins to change.
The Square is an incredible documentary. I have never in my entire life of watching film seen a revolution captured so honestly and brutally as this. You are watching history happen before your very eyes and it is exhilarating and frightening to watch. It is surprisingly well shot for a film filled with protest footage. You are in the sticks with these people and you want them so desperately to win.
The film is seen through three separate views. The first is from Egyptian (though Scottish born) actor Khalid Abdalia who is making a film chronicling the oppression of his people. Alongside him is Ahmed Hassan: a young man who just wants his country to be free from fear. Magdy Ashour is a figure on the more opposing side of the previous two men. He also wants peace, but not in the same way the other two want.
Watching this film felt so surreal because I have seen so many films depict revolutions and uprisings through the lens of a fictional story, but this is for real. There are no reenactments, there are no actors pretending to fight each other. It’s game on and it is terrifying, suspenseful, and brutal to watch. You see the military attack people; you see them get run over by tanks. It’s horrifying, but you cannot look away.
That’s the cost of change. People like Abdalia, Hasan, and Ashour are fighting because they want to see the country they love treat its people with respect. They refuse to give up even if it cost them their very lives. They will do whatever it takes to make sure their battle is won. You root for them like nothing else and you pray they and the country will make it out okay. Hassan says at the film that he doesn’t want to instill a leader who rules, he “just wants our country to have a conscience.”
The Square is a powerhouse of a documentary. I didn’t know what to expect and I was given a punch in the gut in return. It floored me and kept me on the edge of my seat to see where it would all go. I beg you please see this movie. This is one of the best documentaries in the race. It fights to the finish to be heard and it is an absolute triumph.
The Square is available to stream on Netflix.