Friday, February 14, 2014

THE SQUARE - 1 nomination


Documentary Feature - Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer

We have arrived at our first full length documentary feature.  The documentaries are a particular favorite of mine, and the topics this year are diverse and take us around the world to true stories that make us think, make us cry, and hopefully make us act.  One interesting thing about the full length documentary category is that in the past, all members of the Academy were eligible to vote for the winner among the nominees, but only if they have seen all 5 of the films.  This restriction doesn't apply to all of the Oscar categories.  This year, Academy members got a box with all the screeners for all the documentaries, shorts, and foreign films, and so this category has shifted to the honor system, like the others.

The Square documents the rise of the movement for change in Egypt, starting around 2011, when a group of young, idealist, change makers took over Tahrir Square to oust the then-President Hosni Mubarak.  You can feel all of the hope and all of the expectation and all of what could be converging in that one place when people come together to demand a better life.  But that hope is dashed as the military takes over only to be succeeded by the election of the Muslim Brotherhood, who quickly seizes power and moves to replace one dictatorship with another.

The conversation then moves from the ousting of dictators to the question of secular versus religious rule, and can people coexist if a government requires either secularism or religiosity as the only way of life to allow its citizens who do not align with the ruling party to live without oppression.  All of this is made very personal through the eyes of the grassroots movement's leaders - some of whom are secular (like the former lead actor in the movie The Kite Runner) and at least one of whom is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but who displays some independent thinking along the way, but makes clear that he is expected to act under the orders of the Brotherhood, whether or not he agrees with them.  

The film ends with the same uncertainty that Egypt is mired in right now, with the ousting of Mohammed Morsi as the new President cum dictator, and the situation is far from peaceful.  We are left asking ourselves what this "Arab Spring" has really accomplished.  Is it simply the trading of oppression of religious Muslims with the oppression of secular Muslims?  Modern women were active in the overturning of the government, what is their future in Egypt, as the religious reigns are tightened?  Is there hope for secularism in Egypt with the only organized faction being the Muslim Brotherhood?  Can idealists find the practicality to understand and engage in politics?

One thing is sure, for everyday Egyptians, there are simply no easy answers, but they are not ready to give up.  As one of the characters stated so well, until they stand for something rather than simply against the government, it will be hard for them to lead, and to grasp enough political power to affect real change.  Hope will just not be enough.

Haven't seen the film?
Watch The Square Movie Trailer

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