Jehane Noujaim's The Square is one of those rare movies that provoke physical reactions in their audiences. Watching it in a pretty much packed room, it was strange to listen to gasps, "ohmygod"s and clenching teeth in the darkness. All of these reactions were caused by brutal images of torture and violence in which we see regular people being deprived of their freedom, their dignity and even their lives. Noujaim's documentary is a chronicle of the occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo as seen through the eyes of key players of the revolution including a young idealist, a member of the controversial Muslim Brotherhood, a folk singer and actor Khalid Abdalla (The Kite Runner, United 93).
The filmmaker takes us through the most significant moments of the uprising and we see how with the people's sheer will and persistence three regimes are overthrown within less than a year. Noujaim cleverly structures the film so that more than being a journalistic piece, it also works as a seamless drama. "As long as there's a camera the revolution will continue" says one of the main character and we see some of the characters change political positions, suffer horribly at the hands of the military and even become enemies of sorts once they discover what might be the film's most shattering revelation: that in the end it's always the people fighting each other.
Having grown up in one of the few countries in the American continent where coups still occur, The Square hit perhaps a little too close to home; where I ought to have been inspired, I was sadly reminded that democratic changes often take decades to finalize. The film as such is a rousing call to action that ought to intimidate totalitarian regimes by simply reminding them that people will fight for what they believe in. For me personally, it was a bittersweet experience that lifted my spirit, brought it back down and then sent me home complete pissed off. This is what political cinema should be about, right?
The Square won the Audience Awards at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals. It plays exclusively on 10/03 and it's a true must-see.