A nail-bitingly claustrophobic drama set inside a military prison van, Clash exposes humanity and stupidity on all sides. Thrilling.
Released one year before the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, who held power for three decades, writer/director Mohamed Diab’s impressive debut feature Cairo 678 unflinchingly detailed the sexual harassment faced by women daily in Egyptian society.
Of three interlinked stories, one featuring actor and singer Bushra as a working class women who takes drastic action after being groped on the bus route that gives the film its name was its most memorable.
Tightening focus for his sophomore offering, Diab’s Clash (Eshtebak) takes place entirely in the back of an armoured military van rounding up enraged protestors on both sides of the inflamed divide after the coup that removed Mubarak’s successor, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi.
In a timely reminder that impartial observers often find themselves collateral damage in disturbed times, Hani Adel’s AP reporter Adam and his cameraman Zein (Mohamed El Sebaii) are the first to find themselves hurled into this clanking, overheated metal box as it trundles around the disrupted city, its prisons overflowing. Diab was inspired by the plight of Al Jazeera reporter Mohamed Fahmy and photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, the men who found themselves imprisoned with, and then long after, Peter Greste.
Soon they are joined by supporters of the military, mistaken as Muslim Brotherhood agitators, and then by the real deal shorty afterwards, with the army showing no mercy to either women or children. As the temperature rises, Diab steadfastly refuses to pick sides even as the incarcerated find their loyalties are tested and external forces necessitate uneasy alliances.
Glimpses of the chaos raging outside, as Cairo is rent asunder by civil war, only exacerbate the claustrophobia running riot inside. A taut chamber piece captured in ragged camera moves, Clash is only slightly hampered by the van feeling a little more spacious than it should in some of cinematographer Ahmed Gabr’s wider shots, but that’s a small niggle.
Cairo 678’s Nelly Karim appears as a nurse who insists on her own arrest following the capture of her son and husband and whose initial reluctance to adhere to the Hippocratic oath across political divides is one of several fascinating fluctuations in this heart pulsing drama that only ever lets up to soften you before the next unexpected blow in this real-time
Crossing class divides and ramping up divided factions ostensibly on the same side, Clash is a nerve-wracking exploration of the human psyche under extreme pressure. Its final scene is unlikely to be forgotten any time soon.
Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords
Clash is now screening at ACMI. Book tickets here.