We've seen an explosion in the popularity of Virtual Reality over the last 18 months or so, with a number of tech companies and gaming platforms putting commercial units on the market. With the medium still in its infancy, experimentation is rife among pioneering VR practitioners.
This is the latest contribution to what might be called the cinema of claustrophobia. There was Das Boot (set entirely inside a submarine), Lebanon (a tank), and Buried (a coffin). Excellent and gripping films one and all, and Clash – set inside a police truck – is right up there too.
The year is 2012, the place is Cairo, and it’s the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The Egyptian revolution has ended a thirty-year presidency, the military have removed the newly elected president – a member of the Muslim Brotherhood – and MB and military supporters are clashing on the streets.
The action here unfolds over a little more than 24 hours. About ten people have been arrested and locked inside the truck. They include supporters of both sides, so the atmosphere is volatile to say the least – mirroring in some ways the pandemonium outside, which we glimpse through barred windows. The arrestees include women, and (significantly) a couple of journalists. It’s hot inside, it’s hard to breathe, there’s virtually no water and most of the cops are unrelievedly hostile…
If all that sounds like a premise for a tense high-octane drama, it is – and an extraordinarily well staged one. At times you could almost believe you were watching documentary/news footage. Yet there are also further and more subtle strengths to Clash, as the dynamic between the characters shifts and we get some inkling of their respective strengths, weaknesses and blind spots. There are moments of relative calm and tentative solidarity, and even (very fleeting) ones of humour – but essentially this is grim material, rendered both stranger and more viscerally affecting by the intermittent green light of laser pointers.
Clash works really well both as a thriller and as an exercise in socio-political observation. The context is very specific, but some the themes – particularly that of human responses to dangerous and stressful situations – are universal.
Under the aegis of his production company, Passion Pictures, British producer John Battsek has been at the forefront of the documentary form for almost two decades now, bringing to the screen One Day in September, Fire in Babylon, Searching for Sugar Man and more. He'll be speaking at the Australian International Documentary Conference in March, but we cornered him first for a chat about all things doco.
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