What’s become of Egypt after the Revolution is the question Petr Lom asks in “Back to the Square.” The answers he finds are troubling, though shortly after the first uprising in January, few maintained any assumption that the fight was over. Lom, a docu helmer whose past pics focused on human rights in Kyrgyzstan, China and Iran, uses a “pure” docu approach, foregoing background info and explanatory titles; while his five subjects have important stories to tell, the narrow focus opens up problematic charges of selective representation. The thirst for Arab Spring subjects will help “Square” find multiple fest slots.
Following footage of the initial euphoria, Lom shifts to Giza, home of the poor, illiterate family of Wally Hosni, 15. Apparently duped by supporters of President Mubarak to ride to Tahrir Square on his horse the day of the infamous camel charge that spread terror among activists, Hosni was beaten by crowds thinking he was attacking them. Viewers who followed the events of that day understand that Hosni was a very rare innocent on horseback; those new to the topic may come away thinking he was one of many “misunderstood” individuals.
Such is the problem with Lom’s p.o.v., which requires a working knowledge of the Egyptian situation in the last 12 months to comprehend the multiple layers behind each narrative. Scenes that follow in a police station have obviously been staged for the camera, yet the helmer’s non-interventionist style means nothing is challenged or contextualized for auds less informed than himself.
All his subjects tell of abuse at the hands of the police and military. Women have been sexually harassed; charges have been trumped up. Salwa Hosseiny was arrested in Tahrir and forced to take a virginity test; when she decides to move to Cairo from a small village, she leaves her headscarf behind, but a shot of her in an unsavory nightclub will have many fearing for the path she’s chosen.
The only figure here who was covered by the media is Maikel Nabil, a blogger arrested at the end of March. His brother Mark, 19, successfully campaigned on his behalf, demonstrating an impressive sangfroid in the face of intimidation. “Back to the Square” succeeds in offering a sobering corrective to the self-congratulatory works that understandably came immediately after Mubarak’s resignation. Each story told here is powerful and important, reminding viewers of the military’s continued stranglehold on freedom. However, the decision to keep the focus narrow only works when auds understand that five voices alone can never reflect the Revolution’s diversity.