After Startup.com (2001) and Control Room (2004), both successful documentaries casting light on their respective topics, The Square sees Noujaim returning to the place she spent part of her childhood in – Cairo. Moving swiftly through the events that have heavily shaped the country’s turbulent history with the kind of deftness achieved only by a photojournalist competing for the Olympic 300m, Noujaim takes the time to focus on the personal afflictions suffered – and endured – by the actions swirling around them.
Particularly memorable is Ahmed, our street-level perspective, proving that the first waves of the revolution are articulate, rhetoric-free, and able to dodge the occasional Molotov (and throw one too). Another compelling point of view is provided in the shape of the actor Khalid Abdalla, taking a break from successes such as 2007’s The Kite Runner, to delve into the politics tearing his home apart. It could be considered a sly move on Noujaim’s part, using Aballa’s relative fame as an easy grab for audience involvement – but instead, he’s portrayed (realistically) as another cog in the machine of justice, and his inclusion is entirely emblematic of The Square’s complete devotion to the many, not the few.
At one point, Ahmed declares, ‘As long as there’s a camera, the revolution will continue’, and later on, introduces his fellow Tahrir square protestors to ‘Cinema Tahrir’, a reel of images of some of the atrocities carried out by the military. Despite these elements, there isn’t any hint of a meta-theatrical conceit in The Square; it’s not a diatribe on the power of cinema in the hands of the needy, nor is it an argument that an audience experiencing cinema is an active force for good in itself. The Square is too thick in the now, the present moment of its predicaments, to have time for such devices. It’s a documentary that stares down the barrels of guns and into the faces of a stricken people in equal measure, not so much painting a picture of Egypt’s broken, constitution-free chaos, as flinging the oils at the canvas and hoping something gets through. And when it does, this stirring doc can be as rousing as the rabble that started it all.