Leaves You Shaken To The Core

CLASH (rating tbc) 2016 Egypt 97mins. Directed by Mohamed Diab, screenplay by Khaled Diab and Mohamed Diab, starring Nelly Karim, Hani Adel, El Sebaii Mohamed. 

Often when I begin to consider the merits of a film, one of the first questions I ask myself is ‘why did this film need to be made?’ It is a pleasure, when a film comes around every so often, for that question to be totally irrelevant. CLASH is one of these films.

Easily the best film you will watch set entirely in the back of a van, CLASH follows a group of Egyptian civilians, protestors and families all being held hostage in the back of a police truck during the riots of 2013 after the army toppled the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood government and declared martial law. Some are arrested for protesting, others simply for being caught up in the chaos at the wrong time, and over the course of the plot we see how these people from differing political and social backgrounds interact with one another.

But why is questioning the need for this film so irrelevant? Because as a culture in the west, we are bombarded on a daily basis with binary oppositions. From media, sport, culture, competition, the very basis of our society stems from this idea that there is ‘us’ and ‘them’. And indeed when we see reports of the crises in Egypt and the Middle East generally, we get this idea in our heads that there’s the ‘terrorists’ and the people fighting for ‘freedom’, and that’s all. In fact our whole concept of civil war depicted throughout a romanticised history gives us this concept that it is a nice clean split down the middle that causes such a conflict, and it is easy to know who is the good side and who is the bad. 

CLASH depicts better than any film I have seen how this is simply not the case. For a country to be so broken that it descends to civil war, and indeed to the decades of turmoil that have occurred in the Middle East, it is no simple binary opposition that causes this. It is in fact a splintering of a society to such an extreme magnitude, that you have people fighting in all directions until no one knows who’s on who’s side anymore. The chaos of this was depicted in such a raw and brutal fashion in CLASH, as we the audience were flung around the back of this van with these people, hopelessly trapped, it is genuinely eye opening just how terrifying this situation was for these people and indeed still is today in many similar parts of the world.

This effect was helped hugely by the stellar film making involved in this production. The handheld camera-work which remained inside the van for the whole hour and a half was intense and visceral, you were unable to take your eyes off the screen for a moment. Coupled with some wonderful acting performances, particularly from Nelly Karim who played Nagwa, perhaps one of the best and most complete female portrayals I have seen on screen, this film made you empathise with the characters and story so strongly that it leaves you shaken to the core by the time the credits roll. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously once said that it was only the Ancient Greeks that got art ‘right’, referencing their synonymous understanding of art and politics, they simply could not conceive of one without the other. CLASH is a film that greatly resembles Greek tragedy, from its foreshadowing to its perfectly balanced comic relief, and indeed there is an ingenious portrayal of unity of action in the film, as over time we begin to understand more and more that all everyone wants in the back of that van and indeed outside it, is to heal their broken country. It would appear this was very much on the minds of Mohamed and Khaled Diab in the writing and direction of this film, and indeed a tragedy was perhaps the most powerful vehicle for them to get their central message across, which is that this situation as it stands for the people of Egypt is completely and utterly hopeless. 

There is so much more I could discuss and praise this film for, however as I said at the start this is a film that needed to be made, and indeed needs to be seen. So for the sake of that, I will simply say go and watch this film, and encourage others to do so too, because there is no film that can better educate us as westerners currently as to the utter chaos and hopelessness people in Egypt and indeed across the Middle East experience on a daily basis.

Ethan Corcoran

UK RELEASE DATE - 21st April 2017