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Tahrir, Liberation Square

Helmer Stefano Savona ("Cast Lead") took his camera to Cairo's Tahrir Square toward the beginning of the 2011 revolution, using his pure docu style to generally good effect in "Tahrir, Liberation Square."

(Arabic, English dialogue)

Helmer Stefano Savona (“Cast Lead”) took his camera to Cairo’s Tahrir Square toward the beginning of the 2011 revolution, using his pure docu style to generally good effect in “Tahrir, Liberation Square.” As with his previous works, there’s no narration and no interpretation other than editing and, of course, choosing what to film. As an instant response to momentous events, “Tahrir” is a worthy early entry in what’s sure to become an avalanche of similar product, though by the very nature of his methods, Savona’s view is limited. Fests and smallscreen play should prove popular.

Savona hightailed it to Cairo soon after the revolution began, starting filming Jan. 30, the sixth day of the popular uprising. That’s the only indication of dates, which thereafter remain unclear. Savona trains his lens on three young people, Noha, Ahmed and Elsayed, all apparently from the working-class and all determined to oust president Hosni Mubarak without giving much thought to what will follow. What comes across most is the heady, almost miraculous strength of people power, which stood its ground in the face of vicious attacks and stayed focused without a clear-cut leader.

The docu is best at chronicling the shifting mood in the square, the protestors cycling through periods of euphoria, exhaustion, determination and anger, but most of all, solidarity. The helmer never makes clear what information is getting into the square, which means only those familiar with the sequence of events will be able to contextualize moments such as the melee outside the Egyptian Museum, or scenes of protestors prying up pavement stones to use as weapons.

The sense of urgency never flags; neither does the protestors’ deeply affecting pride in being Egyptian and finally taking control of their destiny. As one woman says, “We have our dignity back.” Less clear is the almost fly-by-the-pants strategy behind protests that seem more reactive than proactive; it remains for another docu to delve into backroom discussions. At times Savona had impressive access with his camera, including Feb. 9, when activist Wael Ghonim passionately addressed the protestors onstage.

What’s missing is a sense of the enormous diversity in the square, only glimpsed in general crowd scenes, and auds may question how much the three subjects are perhaps unconsciously performing for the camera. Viewers will need to stay through the last credits for Savona’s real coup, when a young woman harangues the jubilant but exhausted crowds leaving after Mubarak’s resignation, reminding them that the revolution is not over and they must remain ever-vigilant. It’s a crucial moment, easy to overlook, and more than anything reveals Savona’s deeper consideration of the events.

Vid quality is exceptional, and sets “Tahrir” above the plethora of amateur footage readily available from news sources and YouTube. Given the Egyptians’ famed ironic humor, it’s a pity there are no subtitles translating the protest signs.

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Tahrir, Liberation Square


Production: A Picofilms, Dugong production, in association with Rai 3. Produced by Penelope Bortoluzzi, Marco Alessi. Directed, written by Stefano Savona.

Crew: Camera (color, HD); Savona; editor, Penelope Bortoluzzi; sound, Jean Mallet. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (noncompeting), Aug. 6, 2011. Running time: 93 MIN.

With: (Arabic, English dialogue)

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