Mohamed Diab's 'Clash' takes place in a single cramped prison truck

As Alfred Hitchcock knew, the greatest movie ideas are simple — and sadistic. The memo certainly got to Clash, the flammable new political drama directed by Mohamed Diab. It is, on the one hand, a gripping account of the chaos that swept Egypt in 2013 amid the military overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government. The context is laid out in an introductory precis over a shot of the stark interior of a police truck. It’s also a work of fiendish formal brilliance. The whole film then takes place in that single 8 sq metre space among the various people thrown into it.

The first are neutral parties — a reporter and photographer, outraged at their arrest. “We’re journalists!” they cry through the small barred window to a watching crowd of anti-MB protesters, who respond with traditional reverence for the press by hurling rocks at them. In the melee, a clutch of stone-throwers are bundled in the truck themselves. Most claim to be innocent bystanders. Some actually might be. A kid in a SpongeBob T-shirt scowls in the corner; an elderly diabetic sinks to the floor; a young man conceals a razor blade. Then comes the twist: like a dark cosmic prank, the truck ends up attacked by pro-MB demonstrators, from whose ranks more souls are locked inside.

So there they and we are, all sides confined in a chamber piece so raw your eyes never leave the screen. Diab is astute enough to let the film breathe between close-up feuds, a note of the absurd wafting through too (the local head of the Muslim Brotherhood is as officious as a sitcom bank manager). But the dominant mood is claustrophobia, the police even-handedly brutal. The frame is kept mercilessly tight — inside the truck or a snatched view from it, scenes of chaos with thumps on the wall that rock you in your seat. Not once does its big/small idea make Clash feel like a gimmick. It feels like war.

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