After receiving praise in the Un Certain Regard portion of Cannes last May, Mohamed Diab’s latest movie, Clash (Ishtibak) is opening in theatres today.
Yesterday, Diab lamented deliberate attempts to derail the commercial success of his enterprise, citing pressures from certain “agencies” to ensure the movie is a box office flop; pressures that led to the sudden withdrawal of the distributor, a lack of proper advertising, late censorship approvals, and a coordinated campaign among a clique of critics to either completely ignore the movie, or label it as a “festival film” unappealing to mainstream viewers.
Diab wonders why these agencies are taking such measures, even though the movie, as he asserts, is apolitical, and does not take sides in the polarization that took root on June 30th, 2016.
Diab is no moron, he’s just playing dumb.
The police van is an obvious analogy to the country we share. Diab is impartial to all quarks of the political spectrum that slowly fill in the back of the van, and that is his major fault. In a post June landscape that has little tolerance for anything but complete submission, Diab’s even-handed, nuanced and humanitarian account is unsurprisingly unwelcomed.
Here and there, reviews of his film written by foreigners refer to the “harrowing” ending, probably unaware that it is based on real events. No matter how hard he tries, Diab fails to convince us that his project transcended politics, essentially because his villain was plainly clad in black throughout the film’s scenes. The film reads as an epic indictment of police brutality and excessive violence condoned and encouraged by the festive “laser of love” shining from above. Unfortunately, the connotations of the green laser are lost on foreign reviewers and audiences.
In May, even before the movie had found its way to Egypt, it was being slandered by media personalities working for their puppet-masters in these agencies of the state. Diab must have seen the writing on the wall months earlier. He must have known in his heart of hearts that his latest work would not be received well, no matter how many accolades it received abroad, or perhaps specifically in reaction to these accolades, symbols as they of his treachery, unpatriotism, irreverent dissidence, and the cuts he must be receiving from foreign conspirators.
The breadth and bravura of Clash’s cast aptly captured the sad state of the country’s hapless individuals caught between the pincers of two sorts of fascism. No sooner had the ensemble begun to empathise with one another in their suffocating confines than they were obliterated by the impunity of the agents that Diab now berates.
There is no point in trying to pretend that the film is nonpolitical; that it merely uses June as a MacGuffin for the true social core of the story-line. Clash is a political testament against agents of the state, one that does not lend itself easily to simple sermonizing nor to a mindless glorification of the police. That is why the movie is being muzzled, and that is why it deserves to be watched.