Review: The Square (Noujaim, 2013)

Still from the movie The Square

When I was young my dad used to ask me every so often what my favorite movie was. Invariably, I would name the movie we had mostly recently watched, which he seemed to find hilarious. Back then, I pretty much liked everything I saw, as long as it didn’t bore me. I wonder if the same is true for my current reaction to documentaries. Could it just be that I haven’t seen enough to be more discerning? My initial response is almost always enthusiasm. I think, “This is real. This happened. What an incredible story.” I don’t typically find fault until the third or fourth time I’ve thought about a film (or until someone else points out the flaws to me).

So, The Square. Wow, this is real. This happened. What an incredible story. Just kidding. But the thought that kept running through my head while I was watching was, “I’m glad this film was made.” I think there’s a tendency for casual news followers like myself to lump what happened and is happening in Egypt in that category of “something that I’ll never know enough about to understand and so I will just ignore it except to shake my head every now and then at what has happened and my own helplessness over this and all the other complicated messes of the world.”

The film follows a handful of young (necessarily idealistic?) opposition leaders during their euphoria over the toppling of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, their continued protests of the army’s actions following the ousting, and their renewed protests under the rule of elected president Mohamed Morsi. One of the protesters, Magdy, is actually a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the coverage of the inner battle between his ideals, his religion, his biological as well as his political families is probably the most complicated and fascinating part of the film.

I won’t disagree with critics who say it’s one-sided. Instead, I posit that this one-sidedness is both helpful and necessary. There is space enough to air out diverse viewpoints in news programs, articles, and print media. Sometimes I crave just hearing one side’s story, to have just a moment’s clarity of vision and purpose, to inhabit that viewpoint, and even (from within) to recognize its imperfections. Otherwise the issue, with its multiple voices each no more credible than the next, becomes a senseless cacophony, and I get that throw-up-my-hands feeling again.

So here is what I liked about The Square: It made sense of something that didn’t make sense to me before. It gave a picture and a voice to what had seemed mysterious and opaque. It connected me, in that direct way that only films can, to something that’s taking place on the other side of the globe. And now that I’ve absorbed this perspective, rather than being closed off to other viewpoints, I feel more equipped and open to listen to them. But don’t ask me if I liked the movie. I still don’t know how to answer to answer that.

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