Clash (2016)

In Clash director Mohamed Diab creates an intensely moving microcosm of Egyptian society in the confined space of a police van as riots erupt outside.

Children of the Revolution

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

The action of Clash takes place in 2013, when violent demonstrations in the streets followed the ousting of Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member. First the police throw two journalists into an empty police van. They are Adam (Hani Adel) and Zein (El Sebaii Mohamed) – one is Egyptian and one is American.

And one by one, the van is filled up with a mixture thrown in of pro- and anti-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators and innocent bystanders of all political shades – or none. There’s a family, with the mother, a nurse, played by Egyptian star Nelly Karim. There’s comic relief from a singing film extra who is protecting himself by wearing a metal colander on his head. Even a liberal soldier finds himself thrown in there. Outside, the mob throws stones against the van with deafening effect, fights break out and uproar is quelled by armed soldiers. Inside, there’s hostility between the various factions. People shout, argue over politics and over who can use a mobile phone one of them has concealed from the police to call for someone with influence to rescue them. As the long day wears on and their incarceration continues, the sun gets stronger, the inside of the metal van starts to heat up and boil, and people need water, but the police show no humanity.

Clash is shot entirely from within the van using a choppy, hand-held camera, so fluid that it feels like being just another prisoner inside. All that can be seen outside world is shot through the bars of the van’s small window. Chaos and corruption rage all around, there are explosions, rockets, fireworks, tear gas and water cannons and the van is caught in the crossfire. Outside it’s a burning wasteland. Inside, the van rattles like a tin can and rocks with the force of blows outside. It’s a claustrophic microcosm of the range of Egyptian society compressed into a tiny metal-bound space, people crushed together, and filled with intense arguments and emotions.

Director Mohamed Diab (whose first film Cairo 678 dealt with sexual harassment in Egypt), has created a scenario that he feels has optimistic interpretations in the way that, forced to relate to each other in the confined space, the prisoners in the van start to debate and bond. Yet the ending is unexpected and terrifying. Clash – original title Eshtebak – is a terrific technical achievement and amazingly gripping, given the restricted setting.

Clash premiered in Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival, screened at the BFI London Film Festival 2016 and is released on 21 April 2017 in the UK.

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