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With: Khalid Abdalla, Ahmed Hassan, Magdy Ashour, Aida El Kashef, Ramy Essam
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Jehane Noujaim
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Arabic, English, with English subtitles
Running Time: 108
Date: 01/17/2014

The Square (2013)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Revolution Is Televised

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 1970, Gil Scott-Heron wrote that "the revolution will not be televised." Well, it has been -- in a manner of speaking -- with The Square, a powerful documentary about the recent uprising in Egypt.

It begins in 2011, when citizens -- tired of living in fear of the secret police -- converge on Tahrir Square in Cairo to protest against President Mubarak. The saying "be careful what you wish for" comes in handy here, as when Mubarak steps down, he's replaced by a military regime. Then, even though citizens of all religions began protesting shoulder to shoulder, the Muslim Brotherhood organizes and elects the new president, Mohamed Morsi. Morsi is even worse, re-drafting the constitution to give himself new, unchecked powers.

Shot at ground level in the square itself, with some striking overhead shots thrown in, the movie follows five young Egyptians, including the cheerful Ahmed Hassan -- who throws in some poetic lines now and then -- and also the actor Khalid Abdalla (United 93, The Kite Runner). Even if we don't really get to know them well, the immediacy and energy of their efforts is striking.

Cairo-born director Jehane Noujaim is an experienced documentary filmmaker ( and Control Room), but it must have taken extraordinary amounts of skill and concentration to keep several cameras running, and then make sense of the footage at the end (five editors are credited).

Of course, the movie is generally a melee of speeches, protest songs, arguments, and some amazing graffiti art, and it's difficult to watch passively. You might want to agree with someone or just tell everyone to be quiet and listen, but -- for better and for worse -- this could be as close as a movie comes to capturing what a real revolution looks like. It's always a work in progress. At one point, our heroes realize that they toppled the leader without having any alternatives in place, like a new constitution. The Square made me thankful that I live here in the U.S.

It makes you sad that we live in a world in which humans can do terrible things to each other based on beliefs, but it also makes you hopeful that humans also have the power to speak out, and try for something better.

Netflix is the official U.S. distributor for The Square, and it will be available streaming the same day it opens in theaters, just one day after it received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary.

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