Human Rights Watch 2014: The Square – Documentary Review

By March 7, 2014 No Comments

Director: Jehane Noujaim
Countries: Egypt, USA
Year: 2013
Language: Arabic, English
Runtime: 99 min
Rating: 18A

Simply put, The Square is not a documentary that can be judged by typical filmic standards. One cannot analyze this film as they would most others, because what is presented by this work is more of an experience than a movie. Director Jehane Noujaim and her crew spent two years chronicling the events that occurred in Cairo’s infamous Tahrir Square, and instead of viewing the revolution from afar, Noujaim takes her camera right into the heart of the uprising. As opposed to watching a film about these events, an audience is given the opportunity to live them right alongside the individuals involved, and the result is harrowing and unforgettable.

The Square

For over two years, discontented Egyptians occupied Tahrir Square in an attempt to force change from the ineffective leaders in power. Although the much-hated and corrupt Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak did resign in February of 2011 after peaceful sit-ins, many individuals did not notice any improvement, and returned to the Square to force change. This time, they were met with attacks and torture from thugs hired by those in power. This key period of Middle Eastern history was captured by a filmmaking crew working from right inside the action.

Often, the images presented in The Square become blurred and shaky as those carrying handheld cameras are forced to run for their safety, even cutting out abruptly at key and intense moments. This style becomes almost a technique, as it highlights the immediacy of the danger with which the people in the Square are faced and allows a viewer to become a participant in the events, as were the camera people. The real footage presented is more brutal and sobering than any that could have been staged or invented, and provides an experience that is powerful throughout. Many editors were employed in the making of this documentary, and one realizes that hours of footage must have been shot and all of these scenes carefully selected for that which they reveal and the tone that they create.

The Square

This film places much focus on the young people involved in the revolution, and works to capture their energy and spirit. A well-spoken teenager named Ahmed provides narration, explaining the situation to the outside world. Ahmed is reliable and relatable, and one could imagine meeting him at school or in a coffee shop, along with others he introduces such as Aida, Khalid, and Ramy. The technique of examining select personal stories demonstrates how alike these brave young people are to us, the audience, furthering our feeling of involvement and investment. The film also highlights how religions were united by the revolution, as all came together and distinctions between Muslims and Christians disappeared, at least for a certain early period.

By placing her camera right in the centre of a major event, director Jehane Noujaim does not simply allow an audience to watch the horrible events that occurred in Tahrir Square; she forces us to live them. The emotions depicted in this film range from euphoric celebration on the night of Mubarak’s resignation to terror when the brutal attacks began. Raw footage combines with interviews that allow a look into the minds of the young revolutionaries, allowing us to understand their thoughts and motives as well. Noujaim does not create a stylish or polished work with The Square. Rather, she places her audience inside one of the most important revolutions in history in a manner that is shocking and highly effective.

Talia C.

Talia C.

Talia is a film fanatic proudly working in the Canadian publishing industry. She loves movies of all kinds, but recommends that you read the book first.

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