Set entirely in an eight metre long police van, Mohamed Diab’s drama Clash (Eshtebak) sees Egyptians from all walks of life locked up together in the aftermath of the military coup of 2013.
As chaos spreads across the city the movie takes us through the streets to see how people, no matter what their political standing, were locked up for mistakenly being supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The film begins with two journalists, both Egyptians but one who holds a joint American passport, being arrested by police as they cover the protests. Their camera is stripped from them and they are thrown in the police van on the basis that they took pictures of security officials and are spies.
Thus we are introduced to the trend of false accusations, assumptions, stereotyping, fear and anger.
As they attempt to get demonstrators to free them, the journalists once again come under a barrage of abuse and accusations. In post coup Egypt no one’s word can be trusted and everyone is suspicious of everything around them.
Instead of helping, the demonstrators pelt the van with rocks to attack the “Muslim Brotherhood members inside” and end up being locked up themselves accused of being anti establishment… Brotherhood supporters. Their phones are stripped from them leaving them cut off.
Attempts to reason with authorities fail and end with threats from the armed forces and the detainees, some as young as 14 years old, remain trapped.
As the van is driven through the streets it comes under attack from Muslim Brotherhood supporters and so a new batch of detainees are locked up in the van. Tensions run high and the captives squabble.
The chaos on the streets is now playing out in this confined space.
As time goes on and energy levels deplete, the detainees learn to cooperate with each other, they help each other through, joke with one another and even tend to each other’s wounds. However, it doesn’t take long before the underlying conflict surfaces and scuffles begin once again. So too do people’s reasons for coming out on to the streets that day.
Many came out in search of missing family members. Unsure of where to find them or hoping to protect them as they took part in the protests. So, when the police van stops next to another vehicle which is filled with prisoners, everyone starts calling out for their loved ones, asking if anyone has news of them.
The reality of the horror of the days after the coup comes to light as we live out the stories of people dying in overcrowded police vans which are crammed with 50-60 prisoners at a time. In spite of the July heat authorities allow them no water and detainees die from fatigue. Thirty-seven captives died while being held in a police van only days ago, the journalists reveal.
It is then that we learn the extend of the problem from a police officer who says: “There’s no space in the prisons so we are holding you here till some space frees up.”
Thus continues the journey with drama, horror and laughter.
The film, set over a time period of less than 24 hours, takes viewers on numerous journeys, that of political loyalties, family relations and compassion. This is not only on the part of those detained but also with regards the police officers who are ordered to maintain the inhumane conditions the prisoners are being held in and often make told to make them tougher.
In the end, however, survival unites them all and the chaos on the street leads to calculated actions and stability in the police van. However an uncertain future awaits them all.
Though a reflection of life after the 2013 coup, in many ways Clash also represents Egypt today: A country in which those suspected of being Brotherhood members or sympathisers can be locked out on false charges. It also highlights the breakdown of society. A compelling film, it is a powerful reminder that the country is stronger when it’s citizens are united.
Clash is airing in a select number of cinemas in London now.