This is a bit of an Oscar first as the documentary The Square has been given an Oscar nomination but it is distributed by Netflix. I like documentaries – I thought last year’s nominations were some of the best ever – and so decided to watch the film. The title comes from Tahir Square in Cairo and the story covers the events of the last 3 years and the Egyptian revolution which made Tahir Square its home.
I have to say I was a bit disappointed in this movie. It is worth a view if you are interested in events in that area but in some categories it came up short as a film. Netflix is trying to copy HBO’s strategy in becoming a major entertainment producer but they have yet to learn to match HBO’s creativity.
The brightest aspect to this movie is the cinematography. It is really good. The camera work captured the big picture and the individual anguish. It caught the action and the solitude and it brought home the beauty that can lay in revolutionary transition. It is a wonderful camera work and I really enjoyed just ‘watching’.
Where the film fell short is the plot. Now that may seem hard to believe being the Arab Spring is anything but boring, however, the film seemed really lost on the plot. It was hard to keep straight the context in which events were playing out in the film. There really was no P.O.V. I couldn’t tell what story – whose story – the film was trying to tell. P.O.V. is something every story must have. However, sometimes, documentary filmmakers think just turning the camera on and capturing events as they unfold is enough. It isn’t. Even in a documentary you have to take the audience along for the ride and in this case, I was honestly lost at times and it was due to the lack of P.O.V. If I hadn’t know how the events transpired, it could’ve been confusing.
The last half-hour of this was a bit better as it focused on the relationship between a secular revolutionary and a Muslim Brotherhood supporter during the toppling of Morsi and the army coup that took place. That had more focus and it gave a clearer understanding of that dynamic.
I did learn things like how an American-made nerve agent was used on civilians in a hospital. It caused convulsions and deaths. It was used instead of tear gas. I noticed little things like how dirt bikes were used to ferry the wounded during protests to an aid station. The torture by the army was well-documented in the film as was the elitist brutal attitudes of the military generals demonstrated by comments on-screen. When a person tried to show a military spokesperson – a general – video of a protester who’d been shot, the general dismissed the army’s role by saying “that’s not an Army bullet.” I didn’t realize you could tell that from video clips.
I wish there had been more of the lawyers working with families of deceased to get an autopsy so the truth of the deaths would be recorded. The Army came in and tried to intimidate the families into not ordering an autopsy. The lawyers stuck their necks out and their work was interesting. There are a lot of little things like that which do make this film worth watching in spite of the lack of P.O.V. I also found the glimpse into Muslim Brotherhood life compelling.
This movie is nominated for an Oscar but I would have to say if I was a member of the Academy I’d be voting for The Stories We Tell which I reviewed last year in a post on this blog. Still, if you are sitting at home trying to stay thawed out, you might check this documentary out.