REVIEW: “The Square”


2013 was an interesting year for documentaries. It gave us gripping and unsettling exposés, intriguing characters studies, and attention-getting activist films. But perhaps my favorite documentary of the year was the Egyptian-American film “The Square”. It comes from Jehane Noujaim and focuses on the recent Arab Spring specifically the Egyptian Revolution and the events surrounding it. “The Square” is an enthralling film told with a discerning eye and it has rightly earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary.

“The Square” refers to Cairo’s Tahrir Square. It’s a location that became the central hub for a revolution. The film picks up in the spring of 2011 as the Egyptian people, tired of the corrupt and oppressive Mubarak controlled government, rise up and let their voices be heard. These people are from every Egyptian walk of life, each sharing the common desire to be free from the regime’s grasp. Change comes but it is accompanied by lies, defections, violence, and the realization that change isn’t always for the better.


What makes “The Square” so absorbing is that it’s told from the ground. Noujaim chronicles the events starting with the initial protests that led to the military overthrow of Mubarak. From there if shows the military’s dictatorial stranglehold of the Egyptian people and their violent responses to the next wave of revolutionary protests. Then there is the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood which adds more layers of complexities to the already volatile landscape. And it’s all visualized through the cameras of those present at the time. It’s vividly documented and some of the raw footage we see is incredible.

While telling this story, Noujaim introduces us to several fascinating individuals from different backgrounds who form a united bond. One young man has known nothing but Mubarak’s rule. He uses his passion to give speeches at protests and rallies in hopes of growing the revolution. Another man is a popular actor who follows his convictions and leaves his comforts to join his people in their stands against the government. And then another man who is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and ends up torn between them and his revolutionary friends. These and several other people help put faces to this fluid and intense three years.


Noujaim chronologically lays out everything from the mindsets to the events and she does it by putting us there. But the magnificence of the film isn’t just found in the capturing of shocking scenes of military violence. We listen in on spontaneous street debates which reveal the confusion, frustration, optimism, and in some instances naïveté of the people. We also hear private discussions about tactics and organization. All of these things develop an amazing sense of place and give us an unprecedented look at the true heroes behind the revolution.

“The Square” is a remarkable piece of documentary filmmaking that is both riveting and eye-opening. It educated me from a perspective that was missing from the news articles and reports I had seen. Jehane Noujaim deserves a ton of credit for bringing this together through a style that required great skill. This could have been just another political documentary but instead it’s a gripping experience that is sure to draw you to the cause of these passionate and hungry people.


16 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Square”

  1. Great review, Keith. And I agree – this is a terrific documentary. I wouldn’t call it my favorite of the year, but I would call it worthy of all the praise you give it. Great work!

    • Thanks man. I do think it tops my list of docs for the year. It’s so well made and I love the approach it takes. I’ve seen it twice now and I was completely absorbed both times.

    • And that’s exactly what this one does. It gives us the viewpoint of the people on the ground. People who were tired of the dictators rule. They were Christian, Muslim, liberal, conservative. But they all united as Egyptians. It amazed me at how it documented everything so fluidly. The chronological order of the footage was done so well.

      I also appreciated that this wasn’t an activist film. This was made to inform, to enlighten, to open eyes. It really did for me.

      • Amen, amen, amen!

        I don’t know if you read my review of “Blackfish”. That’s one of my problems with that doc. It’s incredibly well-made but it handles the facts very loosely in order to promote an agenda.

  2. Wow, I had never even heard of this Keith, thanks for bringing this to my attention. Sounds like a very gripping documentary that’s VERY timely as well.

    • It’s fantastic Ruth. It’s got an Oscar nomination this year but I don’t know if it’ll pull out a win. I’m really behind it. Oh, and it is now available on Netflix streaming! I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

  3. This documentary captured everything the world wide media failed to do – it gave more of a open view of the demonstrations and real insight into why the people felt that they needed to do this and this was the time. It also demonstrated that even withing a revolution, there needs to be some level of organisation.

    Really fantastic documentary.

    • I’m with ya 100%. I found this completely fascinating but also incredibly enlightening. To my shame this was something I knew little about – only bits that the media had fed me. I love it when a documentary serves as an eyeopener and does it without fudging facts or being overly manipulative.

      Glad to hear from someone else who appreciated it too.

    • It’s gripping stuff. I don’t think it has a chance to win the Oscar this year but it’s definitely worth being in the conversation. I’d like to hear your thoughts on it if you get a chance to see it.

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