Clash – Review (Cannes Film Festival)

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Mohamed Diab’s Clash opens with text explaining the setting for the film, the revolts in Egypt in 2013, and the events that led up to them. It’s potentially useful, if you’re not familiar with what happened in Egypt following the ‘Arab Spring’, but the way in which Diab assumes a lack of knowledge in the audience is somewhat representative of his general approach. Clash, despite its setting and production, shares a great deal with a slightly dumbed down approach often seen in Hollywood. The fat clownish guy that cheers everyone up when things seem at their worst, for instance, isn’t exactly the best cliche to lean on in your political thriller in 2016.

Following the text, we are introduced to two men who have been thrown in the back of a police truck. They’re Egyptian-American journalists – a frequent trope in Hollywood is providing a journalist to open the door into a story for us – and they are quickly joined by pro-army protesters who are somewhat mistakenly placed under arrest and then a number of members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The truck is, of course, a microcosm for Egypt and a rather obvious metaphor that rolls around the streets, as various clashes play out inside and out.

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Diab has a pretty good hook though with Clash and that is that the film takes place entirely inside the truck – although he ‘cheats’ a little with framing at times. This claustrophobia is reasonably effective, as is the way in which he uses the characters’ restricted view – clang, there’s another metaphor – to give us a restricted view of the clashes on the streets too. This, coupled with some excellent handheld camera work, subtle but meaningful lighting and effective editing rhythms, makes a number of scenes incredibly tense and even a little difficult to watch at times.

No doubt made with an eye to breaking out and taking its ideas to a wider audience – no bad thing if done well – Clash is an energetic thriller, with an interesting political angle. Those already familiar with the unrest in Egypt, even in passing, will find little to really chew on though, but will probably be just about swept up enough to forgive some of the overly familiar writing and cliched character beats.

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