Like most Americans, I suspect, I was ignorant of many of the political, religious and social conflicts that sparked a massive, well-publicized people’s uprising in Egypt beginning in early 2011. Cairo’s historic Tahrir Square became the central gathering spot for hundreds of thousands of mostly young Egyptians seeking to oust longtime president/dictator Mohamed Mubarak. They succeeded only to have Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi, assume even greater power in an unconstitutional manner. The square became the site of more protests this year that ultimately drove Morsi from the office, although this week’s news reports Morsi still defiantly considers himself Egypt’s president.
These events have been brought to the big screen by documentarian Jehane Noujaim (Control Room). Appropriately titled The Square and now playing in Los Angles and New York City, it is a mostly riveting film startling in it’s you-are-there immediacy thanks to the vast number of cell phones and digital cameras that captured the proceedings first hand. Noujaim premiered an unfinished cut of The Square at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and ended up winning the fest’s Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary. Prognosticators, including myself, expect it to be nominated for Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards.
The film reveals the uprising primarily through six charismatic participants: British-Egyptian actor Khalid Abdalla, known for The Kite Runner and United 93; Magdy Ashour, initially a member of the Morsi-backing Muslim Brotherhood; “unofficial” Square Security officer and storyteller Ahmed Hassan; human rights lawyer and activist Ragia Omran; Ramy Essam, a formerly unknown singer who became one of the movement’s most popular leaders and would, subsequently, be tortured by the Egyptian army following Mubarak’s resignation; and Egyptian filmmaker Aida El Kashef, from whom Noujaim secured some of the most intense footage shown in The Square. Gay American journalist Anderson Cooper also makes an appearance.
In addition to the real-time depiction of critical events, Noujaim incorporates some excellent protest art work that likely can’t be viewed elsewhere. As one protester remarks in the film, “Egyptians do not revolt easily; for us to revolt means we’ve had enough.” Ahmed stirringly refers to the revolution’s central battleground as “the place of pride and dignity.” While there remains considerable unrest in Cairo and throughout the Nile region, The Square and its participants give viewers many reasons for hope in lasting change.
Revolution is also depicted on a quieter, gayer, and more intimate scale here in the US in the recent DVD releaseWaterberry Tears, available from Ariztical Entertainment. Focusing on a migrant family in southern California’s Coachella Valley, it explores the fragility of outdated traditions and expectations through a teenaged son’s coming out process. Goyo (Raul Rodriguez), 17 and on the verge of his high school graduation, has endured emotional and physical abuse from his father Ramon (Juan Loaiza) whenever he has shown the slightest hint of effeminacy.
Things take a dramatic turn for Goyo and his twin sister once they both fall in love with community newcomer Lucio (Daniel Lugo). The bisexual hottie seduces them both but ultimately marries the girl, much to Goyo’s understandable disappointment. Once the truth about Lucio’s and Goyo’s relationship is revealed, however, it forces Goyo to finally embrace himself despite his father’s homophobia.
Waterberry Tears is unique both for its realistic look at the politics of Spanish-speaking migrant communities as well as its cast of local, non-professional actors. While their performances are naturally a mixed bag, Lugo struck me as having genuine star quality and ought to consider an acting career. All the actors, though, have their authentic moments. Directed by the talented Adrian Aldaz (who also shot and edited the film) from a script by Jaime Soria, Waterberry Tears is definitely worth seeking out.
The Square: A-
Waterberry Tears: B
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.