Starring Nelly Karim. In Arabic, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
Clash opens with its camera in the back of an empty truck, one with barred windows, roaring along a road. Get used to it: in this claustrophobic, combustible little study from Egyptian director Mohamed Diab, you, the viewer, are not going to escape these cramped confines for the next hour and a half. You’re going to be trapped along with the growing number of rival rioters and journalists thrown into its smothering confines during the tumultuous weeks after the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.
The movie maintains an amazingly controlled point of view and sharp handheld camera work, only showing you the chaos erupting in the streets—riot police, people throwing rocks, tear-gas explosions, gunfire—through the bars of those small truck windows. The effect is terrifying and disorienting—exactly the effect Diab needs to evoke the complex failures of the Arab Spring and the loss of humanity during unrest.
Clash refuses to take sides. The anti–Muslim Brotherhood contingent spans a bleach-blond DJ, a female nurse, her young son, and an elderly man with diabetes. The Muslim Brotherhood members who get thrown in with them include a veiled teenage girl and pious young devotees. The two groups hate each other, but they have one thing in common: they despise the two journalists thrown in with them more. “An activist should die for a cause, not a photo,” one spits at them. Still, as things become grimmer, they start to help each other, taking turns breathing through the window, and forming a human wall so someone can pee in private.
Some moments ring false, as when MB members stop the action to question their politics or two men scuffle over a girlfriend. These people have more pressing matters to worry about. The heat is starting to suffocate them, bullets are ripping through the metal of their locked truck, and there are no toilets or water.
Ultimately, the biggest danger they face, however, lies outside their rolling prison: the angry street mobs—whatever their allegiances. The climax, set amid the insane frenzy of the revolution’s green laser-pointer beams, will remind you of the last zombie-apocalypse movie you saw.
So it’s not a pleasant ride—you’ll be relieved when you can escape this patrol wagon from hell. But Diab has created a thought-provoking and timely hell all the same.