Nasrallah tackles Tahrir Uprising Barely a Year Later, Will Suffer his own Battle Scars
Taking as its topic the Tahrir Square uprising in February 2011, Yousry Nasrallah’s After the Battle is a melodramatic soap opera has McLuhan-esque formal pretensions and leaves viewers more defeated than fired up. Characters weak and empowered alike have argument after argument over seemingly every social issue in Egypt as it relates to the Mubarek regime’s influence, a fundamental flaw in the script that reduces what should be living, breathing humans into non-descript participants in what resembles the world’s most disorganized debate tournament. When someone does engage in an aspect of life that could be considered banal, it’s quickly escalated to an nth degree of tension and screaming, as if Nasrallah were worried his audience was getting bored with it. Just narratively disjointed enough to be certifiably unconventional, there is little to justify this bloated work’s existence other than the obvious historical source that spawned it.
Performances are actually not as bad as the acting would indicate, since most of the flaws can be sourced to the direction; however, lead turns are mediocre at best. As Mahmoud, Bassem Samra is the central conflicted character in the film. As a skilled horseman who attacks protestors under the sway of Mubarek’s regime, he is a man who has caused great humiliation for himself and his family and friends, including some particularly hurtful consequences for his sons Abdallah and Momen, who are tormented and teased by their classmates. It’s Mahmoud’s relationships with his wife Fatma (Nahed el Sebaï) and the revolutionary Reem (Menna Chalaby), though, that initiate the crux of Nasrallah’s interests in gender roles (especially ‘manliness’) and potential future redemption. Sebaï previously worked with Nasrallah on his 2009 feature Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story and gets the showiest role, though it is hardly nuanced, frequently over-the-top.
Combining what looks like viral YouTube footage of the revolution with plastic HD lensing of the fictional material, Nasrallah clearly equates the crappy digital interjections with an ‘edginess’ and ‘coldness’ that is inadequate in expressing the anguish of these people. What he’d have learned from another film that strategically mixed media – Antonio Campos’ Afterschool (which ironically also refers to sub-sequential matters) – is that there is a good deal of truth and authenticity to be found in found footage. Juxtaposing the two, at times in rapid back-and-forth montages, Nasrallah unintentionally exposes the flaccid artifice of his direction in the staged reenactments (and pretty much every other fictional scene, too). As is, these pixelated clips serve as reliefs from the contrived mess in the rest of the film.
In what could have been an important and incendiary work of obvious international relevance, After the Battle is ultimately a rushed and feathery portrayal of a seminal contemporary event. While it wouldn’t have necessarily been obvious, the problem seems to essentially be one of the ‘too soon’ sort, as Nasrallah is clearly impassioned by this turn in his country’s history and was anxious to call ‘Firsts’ on the subject. Unfortunately, this film shouldn’t end up leaving any sort of legacy – for the crew’s careers nor for Egypt – and will likely not leave any impression past Tahrir Square’s next anniversary.
Reviewed by Blake Williams at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival – Main Competition