Catching up with: Oscar #documentary favorite The Square


In this era of instant gratification, political documentaries come out quickly and are disseminated widely, such as The Square, even as the trial of deposed Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi takes place in chaotic conditions.



It's also a grand time to be a Netflix subscriber and documentary aficionado, as most Oscar nominees for best documentary are currently streaming there. Statuettes will be awarded the night of March 2nd, and the current nominees attest to the depths and nuances in which documentaries thrive.



The Square takes an interesting, theater-like approach to present the failed, heroic, intermittently violent and continuously flawed people's revolution in Egypt, from the perspective of the elites among the protesters, even if they are not presented as such. Those we follow are already carrying the expensive cameras and laptop computers, with connections to the old liberal critics, with organizational and singing abilities or foreign passports and in the case of the essential character, Magdy Ashour, political pedigree with the Muslim Brotherhood. They are glorified through in and out of focus vapors of the current Canon 5d look. Another main character repeatedly walks in the middle of the street, oblivious to passing cars. So the pain and suffering, bruised egos, beatings and jailings seem almost to dissipate in the haze or at least feeling the utopian benefits that is the hope for a better tomorrow. (until that is an Army tank comes crashing through)



We never follow Ashour into the Brotherhood, and never really get his full bio, but without him, the film would be much too one-sided, even if it does summarize some of the events in an anti-Brotherhood hue. To some, the film does not go far enough into the Brotherhood, and I agree, I would have much preferred a more in-depth look into that organization, rather than at the elite stone throwers.



Unlike the Brotherhood, the young revolutionaries know they have no electoral base, and also that they want a change that seems well beyond their grasp, as the military, whether despised, criticized, adored or tolerated, remains in power. This military knew it could no longer remain in power with Hosni Mubarak at its helm, and while the Brotherhood was tricked into assuming the power it won at the polls, the military was ready to pounce, and the "revolutionaries" seemed to have become pawns of a greater power struggle.



The film seems to denounce the Brotherhood much more for its cunning gamesmanship, rather than the military, for which it reserves wrath when it turns violent on the protesters, but not for its own shrewd maneuvering. The film is brilliant and well told, with "arguments" between its protagonists serving as some of the debates of the time, but it seems powerless much like the protestors, and with an air of spectacle, artifice, storytelling wizardry, and poetic visuals of taking, losing and fighting for Tahrir, but it seems to fall short of getting to the heart of the matter, and that is the state of Egypt today. Is Tahrir Square really that interesting in the greater scope of things?

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