Sunday, January 26, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Square (2013) ****

NR, 95 min.
Director: Jehane Noujaim
Featuring: Ahmed Hassan, Khalid Abdalla, Magdy Ashour, Ramy Essam, Aida Elkashef, Ragia Omran, Pierre Sayoufr

“The Square” is the first of the Oscar nominated Best Documentary features I will be examining over the next month before the Oscar is awarded. Four of the nominated docs are available on Netflix Instant, which also include “Dirty Wars”, “The Act of Killing” and “Cutie and the Boxer”. Only “20 Feet from Stardom” will require a separate rental for me.

I was in China meeting my daughter for the first time when the revolution in Egypt against the tyrannical rule of Mubarak broke out in the form of a peaceful sit-in protest in Tahrir Square. It was the biggest news we saw during our trip, where the news media concentrates all its efforts to international news and none to domestic. I never learned as much about what was going on in the world than the time I spent in China. I glad that upon our return to the U.S. our media did at least cover the fact that Mubarak agreed to step down a month later. Beyond that, however, it was more difficult to follow what happened in Egypt over the next three years. “The Square” is here to clear a good deal of that up.

While it is important to see “The Square” so you can have knowledge about and understand the political struggles of Egypt, I believe it is also important for Americans to watch this doc so we can understand just what we take for granted in this country every day. We like to complain about the corrupt nature of our government and imagine fantasies about how our lack of immediate access to guns we don’t yet own will lead to our democracy’s downfall, but what is happening in Egypt is real oppression and real corruption. “The Square” takes a street’s eye view of the revolutionary movement in that country, how religion is getting in the way of real political progress and how some people are willing to sacrifice in the interests of everyone more so than themselves.

The movie introduces us to several peaceful revolutionaries. None of these people are taking arms up against others to achieve their goals, despite the fact that many are willing to take up arms against them. Ahmed grew up on the streets of Cairo, working at the age of five to pay for his schooling. Kahlid is an Egyptian-American who gave up a film career in Hollywood (he splayed the leading role in the movie “The Kite Runner”) to return to Egypt and fight for his people’s cause, and Magdy is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who alternately admonishes and embraces the practices of his party’s actions. He does what they tell him to, but he doesn’t always like it.

The movie was nominated because of its world political importance. It doesn’t involve flashy filmmaking, but it is unprecedented in its access to the ground zero activities of these revolutionaries in the midst of history. What it depicts is inspiring and horrific. Netflix produced and released this project on their own and continue their attempted take over of both television and cinema with their Oscar nomination. In this case, it is deserved. 

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