Tahrir: Liberation Square

Tahrir: Liberation Square


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Ninety per cent of politics is turning up. With dozens of demonstrations and hundreds of thousands on the streets of Cairo, Tahrir: Liberation Square is an interesting, if unfocused look at the political maelstrom of the Arab Spring as it happened.

With zero explanation or introductory voicing, we delve straight into the fortnight of "just and sacred" anti-Mubarak protests. It's a straightforward piece of filmmaking, a multi-camera set-up capturing clear, high-definition video. The introductory credits are set to grainy and overcompressed cameraphone footage, with tinny sound.

Copy picture

The film's structure is elusive. Director Stefano Savona very simply invites us to stand witness. There are very few names, only a series of people, some of whom we come to recognise when they speak later. It's an uninteresting documentary strategy. The camera often meanders, slowly filtering through crowds and voice-over explanation.

The film comprises a slipshod mixture of repeated chanting, direct-to-camera rants, and some interesting scenes with newly-energised political activists, discussing their politics and (lack of) strategy over a campfire. "We're fighting for a secular state, one which respects our liberties."

These old and young rebels desire political pluralism and are fearful of a future replacement, regressive Islamic state. Many of them have foresight, plotting for the probable power-vacuum. Others merely want to concentrate on Mubarak's fall, and division in the ranks is detrimental to this main goal.

Added to the thin structure are short vignettes dealing with the practicalities of such a protest - including when it turns violent, the air thick with stones - there are thousands sleeping in the square, a hundred thousand people in prayer simultaneously, and they form impromptu hospitals to treat the wounded.

The protestors come from all walks of life - there are peasants, small businesses owners, farmers, suit-wearing yuppies (there's a Gucci jacket in there). As the protest continues, they keep chanting and singing to keep their spirits high. Many faces betray their fear of the military. The film discusses the problems of a leaderless rebellion - "Who's going to represent us?"

Tahrir: Liberation Square's lack of perspective is its greatest flaw. Furthermore, it's a story that lacks enough context or commentary. As a slice of footage from the Arab Spring, it's fine, but it feels incomplete. At time of writing (June 2011), little has changed since the end of the film. While Mubarak has not returned, political protestors are still being arrested at whim and the army retains control of the country.

There's a potent little coda, where a demonstrator realises the inherent fragility of their victory. One can only begin to imagine the frustration.

Reviewed on: 19 Jun 2012
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Documentary on the Egyptian revolution.

Director: Stefano Savona

Year: 2011

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: France, Italy


EIFF 2012

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