Here’s the problem with The Square, Jehane Noujaim’s documentary about Egypt. Because it decides to forgo explaining all but the most basic politics of Egypt and chooses instead to focus on the drama of Tahrir Square, it misses the biggest story of all: that those same political forces turned many of the same revolutionaries into counterrevolutionaries and relegated the rest to prison or irrelevance.
Ahmed is a great character, of course, while Magdy, of the Muslim Brotherhood, just looks confused most of the time. (Are we supposed to sympathize with him because we know what he doesn’t know about himself, namely, that he’s more of a liberal than a Brother?) While the film signposts many of the main events over the last three years, it doesn’t sufficiently investigate the confusion, the exhaustion, the suspicion, the bewilderment, the creativity, the love, the hope, the paranoia, the betrayal, the alliances, the solidarities, the lost friendships, the hatreds, the found friendships, the despair, and really the numbness that comes with the paroxysms of trying to hold on to a revolution, and knowing less and less what that means, over the span of some three years.
The film’s leitmotif is perseverance, which will play well to audiences in the United States. But in Egypt, the arc of the last three years bends to something more tragic, and far more grim.