The Square

  • Title: The Square
  • Country of Origin: Egypt
  • Language: Arabic (with English subtitles)
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Released: January 2013
  • Run Time: 108 Minutes
  • Director: Jehane Noujaim
  • Available on: Netflix (Exclusive)
  • Recommendation by Brian Magnuson

Warning: Violent scenes of death

The Square is an award winning feature length film documentary by Jehane Noujaim about the 2011 Egyptian Uprising. When it began, the event was rolled into what became known as the “Arab Spring”. You may remember how it all played out on Al Jazeera, CNN, and other world news outlets. One of the more interesting characteristics about this conflict was how the average person in other parts of the world became an instant witness to the barbaric actions of the ruling regime. Much of it was broadcast on YouTube as soon as it happened. The connected world population bore witness to the savagery that took placed on the streets of Cairo and in Tahrir Square, hence, the film’s title. It was nominated for an academy award and was critically acclaimed at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and the Toronto International Film festival. As you watch you begin to think that revolutions are messy. This one began with one clear end in mind: the removal of then president Hosni Mubarak, which, soon after made the government open to opportunists to bend events to their advantage. There are disagreements among the revolutionaries, but, never violence. They try to be clear that the change they seek is for the good of all people, not religious reasons.

Jehane Noujaim uses her cameras and editing skills to wrench every bit of pathos from the authentic video. She follows a small mixed group of people with similar aims to topple the regime by documenting their feelings of the agony, the ecstasy and the agony again as each event unfolds. Noujaim, an Egytian American puts you right in the action and on the side of the freedom fighters with interviews of most affected people. These interviews of the witnesses that were at ground zero help propel this documentary forward. They unwittingly narrate the action and circumstances through off camera prompting. The director attempts objectivity by interviewing the military who go from support of the popular uprising to enemy in a period of a few short months after the resignation of Hosni Mubarak.

For a greater and more detailed understanding of the Egyptian Uprising I recommend The Square. On a scale of 1 to 5 globes for cultural immersion I give it a four. The people speak mostly Arabic while the film is subtitled in English. With many well-crafted films, this one evokes sympathy if not empathy for people with whom you have no connection. With a twenty-four hour news cycle we become inured to the violence emanating from the middle east because we are so far removed from it. This film makes you feel just a little more connected to the people of Egypt for the violence they are subjected to.