Cannes 2016: Mohamed Diab’s ‘Clash’ is Superb Confined Filmmaking
by Alex Billington
May 13, 2016
The opening film in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival is an intense, riveting feature called Clash (also known as Eshtebak in Egyptian) and it’s outstanding. Clash is set entirely inside the back of a police paddywagon in Egypt in 2013, during the second half of their revolution. It begins when two journalists are grabbed during protests, their cameras and IDs confiscated, and thrown into the back of this truck. The impressive handheld camerawork often focuses on all the action outside as much as what’s happening inside. While the entire film is confined to this one location, it feels like director Mohamed Diab is showing so much more of the Egyptian revolution, and we get to learn more as more detainees are added.
This is a seriously outstanding film that goes above and beyond the confines of the paddywagon. It’s actually much more of a truck, as nearly 20 different people from both sides of the revolution are eventually thrown together into this giant metal box. This is when things really heat up – as the two different factions begin bickering over everything big and small, who caused what, who is doing what to who, and what this is doing to their country. However, amidst all of this chaos there are real moments of humanity, of connection. And I can’t help but believe that’s what Mohamed Diab was trying to show – that despite the constant fighting, we can connect. No matter who we are, we are all humans, all trying to survive. And he shows this beautifully.
The subgenre of set-in-one-place thrillers has been gaining new entries consistently for years, between films set inside tanks (Fury, Lebanon) to other horror features and occasional dramas like this one. When telling a story confined to one particular setting, there can easily be issues related to the cinematography or the characters or the pacing or flow overall, but Clash somehow manages to never have any of these problems. It feels claustrophobic on purpose, but the camerawork is extremely efficient, I could always get a sense of what I’m looking at or what’s going on. The way the camera moves to show what’s going on outside through the windows or the door or even the rearview mirrors on the truck is impressive. Beyond that, the film is compelling from start to finish, as they keep moving along, and things keep happening in an authentic way.
In the second half of the film the truck ends up in the middle of an actual riot and the police clash with the people outside the truck. I was already enjoying the film at this point, but this is when it really won me over. The amount of effort it must’ve taken to coordinate all of this activity outside while keeping the various actors inside choreographed and on-script is baffling and mesmerizing. It reminded me, in a way, of just how impressive Son of Saul is with its background activity. On top of all that, the visuals are fantastic. Not only do fires rage outside, and various lights flicker and flash, but bright green laser pointers cut through the smoke from every direction. It was gorgeous to see, despite the war raging inside the truck and outside.
Through all the chaos and fighting, director Mohamed Diab touches upon so many fascinating topics in such a beautiful way. Clash is not only about the real connections we can have with each other, no matter our convictions, it’s also about our desire to fight passionately for what we believe in. We’re all the same, right? It’s also about the way we observe the world and how small moments can make a big difference. It’s also about loyalty and respect. It’s also about the various factions in Egypt and what they stand for, and what they want. I wasn’t expecting to be this impressed by a film set inside of a police paddywagon, but here I am raving about how great this film is. I’m so glad I saw it, and I hope many others get a chance to see it as well.
Alex’s Cannes 2016 Rating: 9 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter – @firstshowing