For his latest film, Egyptian director Mohamed Diab is portraying his country’s recent turbulent history from a unique vantage point: inside the back of a van.
“Clash,” which opened at the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival, is set entirely in a police riot van in 2013 when Egypt’s first freely elected president, Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi, was overthrown by the military after a divisive year in power.
The country later outlawed the group, branding it a terrorist organisation.
Mohamed Diab, the director of “Clash” told Al Jazeera he had wanted to make a film about the revolution since the first day of the uprising.
“But things were going so fast, I couldn’t find the right idea because before even I finished the idea it was very old. So 2013 my brother came up with this idea; sticking people in the van, different people in one van spending the day together.”
‘Tension at fever pitch’
Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from the festival, said the tension in the film is at fever pitch right from the beginning.
“For the cast and crew of Clash, it’s been an intense filmmaking experience. The movie was shot over 26 days, with all actors present all the time. And Diab completed the final cut only a week ago.”
As the police van moves through Cairo, a number of people get arrested, some of them quite randomly. The van gets caught up in several violent demonstrations and the characters inside are confused and disoriented because they don’t know whose side the protesters are on.
Actress Nelly Karim said: “What I like about the script that Mohamed wrote is that he’s not with someone or against someone. He left it open. It’s for the audience to decide who you like or you don’t like. Who you’re sympathising with, who you’re not sympathising with.”
The prisoners inside the van have been trying to escape since the beginning of the film. But by the end, faced with mounting violence and confusion outside, they want to stay inside the van at all costs.
“The euphoric sense of national unity, so alive during the Arab Spring, has been replaced by fear and violence. But ultimately this is a film about humanity, and how the human spirit transcends politics,” Rowland said.
Diab previously earned acclaim with “Cairo 678,” his directorial debut about sexual harassment in the city. He said filming in Cairo presents unique challenges.
“The hardest thing was how to shoot it in the streets of Cairo, where people can mistake you as a real protester and shoot you, so we created this flash mob thing,” Diab said.
“Everyplace, we just flash mobbed it and started shooting until someone stopped us.”
Several recent films have portrayed the conflict in Egypt, including documentarian Jehane Noujaim’s “The Square” and filmmaker Ibrahim el-Batout’s “Winter of Discontent.”