All of the above adjectives, and more, describe The Square, an excellent documentary indeed.
Director Jehane Noujaim follows a core group of Egyptian revolutionaries through years of protests and political upheaval. In so doing, she makes The Square something more than a piece of non-fiction; it is also a stirring drama, one that demonstrates the power a united group of people have, while also showing one group’s struggle to remain intact.
This duality is most obvious in Magdy Ashour, a man who must make a choice: continue allying with the revolution or support the Muslim Brotherhood. His story is gripping drama.
As are the others. Ahmed Hassan, Khalid Abdalla, Ramy Essam, and Aida Elkashef would all be strong protagonists in a fictional film. That each is real makes their stories all the more interesting.
Noujaim’s artistic decisions help, as well. The director uses music adeptly and includes Ahmed’s voice-over narration at the right moments.
Even more impressively, Noujaim’s camera and editing choices create intimacy with her cast of characters. We feel we know these people, partially because the director films their debates through close-ups, and partially because she includes so many personal scenes.
Other directors might have cut Ahmed lying to his mother, or Aida bemoaning military force, or even Khalid being interviewed by international media. But by keeping such scenes, Noujaim guarantees we know these people as human beings, not just as revolutionaries.
The Square is almost flawless. Shaky camera-work is hard to criticize, given the filming conditions.
Some of the conversations feel a tad contrived, as if they start at behest of the documentary’s crew, but this too is easily overlooked.
Primarily because The Square is thematically powerful, as well as informative.