Sped to its première screening only six months after Hosni Mubarak resigned as Egyptian president on February 11, 2011, Tahrir: Liberation Square is a lively, messy document of the 2011 Egyptian uprising, offering immersion into the Tahrir Square protests rather than any larger perspective. Directed by Italian filmmaker Stefano Savona, who also shot the film, Tahrir: Liberation Square keeps to the titular downtown Cairo gathering site as more and more protestors assemble, as violence erupts, and hope for the future builds. It’s an exhilarating, though unfocused, look at how the country reached its tipping point, one that feels unfiltered in ways both good and bad. It’s a collection of striking images rather than a considered whole.
Tahrir: Liberation Square has a few regulars to check in on, but its vérité structure is based around the crescendo of the revolution instead of personal experiences. One young man has a conversation with someone from Suez, and in the audience’s next glimpse of him, his head is bandaged and he’s limping through the night, encouraging people to go shore up the forces at the museum. Conversations—about who’s there in the Square, what led people there, and what they think will happen when the regime falls—bookend footage of angry crowds shouting back at a televised broadcast from Mubarak, of people pulling up chunks of pavement to have something to throw at attackers, of churning masses waving flags. Savona’s cinematography is intimate and fluid, and he has an eye for beauty amid the action—women chanting and pounding out a rhythm against a fence, the backs of men bowed in morning prayer. One stunner of a shot follows a girl carrying rocks to be used as ammunition as she winds her way through the injured and bleeding as they’re walking or being carried the other way.
The Egyptian revolution was fueled by new technology, and Tahrir shows how cell phones, laptops, and Facebook allow for the flow of information in and out of the square. Savona’s camera isn’t an unremarked-on presence—protestors acknowledge it, look to it, and eventually address it directly, offering their own pleas and perspective. In its deliberate skimping on context, Tahrir: Liberation Square has the immediacy of a live stream—thrilling and overloose, with its share of dead time, leaving viewers to figure out for themselves what’s happening and what’s next.