This realist melodrama from Yousry Nasrallah tries its damnedest to convey how messy, contradictory and confusing were the events of the 2011 uprising in Egypt. But in doing so it attracts all those same accusations itself.
‘After the Battle’ mixes a main thrust of densely-packed drama with news footage, sometimes segueing from one to another with the intention of seamlessness. It tells of an unusual alliance between a horseman, Mahmoud (Bassem Samra), from the suburbs of Cairo near the Pyramids, and Reem (Menna Shalabi), a liberal, cosmopolitan woman working in advertising who is politicised by the events of the Arab Spring. The two meet when a friend of Reem takes her to Mahmoud’s neighbourhood, where the community, reliant on tourism, desperately needs aid to feed their starving horses. Over the next few months, the pair develop an intense friendship born partly of romantic attraction but mostly out of a fascination with each other’s way of life and view of the world. Finally, in the autumn of 2011, they spill onto Tahrir Square together.
‘After the Battle’ aims to show the complexity behind the simplicity of the images and the ideas we have received about Egypt’s revolution. Mahmoud is one of the ‘Tahrir Square Knights’, who in February 2011 rode into the square to attack the crowd of revolutionaries, in what became known as ‘The Battle of the Camel’. The likes of Mahmoud were presumed to be conservative and violent, but ‘After the Battle’ shows that they too, were marginalised and under threat from the Egyptian status quo and in need of change.
The trouble with ‘After the Battle’ is that it feels like every idea and experience related to the Arab Spring in Egypt has been thrown into the one pot. The film was devised without a script, over the middle months of 2011, and it shows. Some of the acting is hysterical. Much of it is poor. There are too many stereotypes: the young, female, modern divorcee; the unreconstructed, simple and uneducated male; the pantomime villain community leader. The film feels like both a too-basic allegory of the country’s wider woes and a story far too steeped in barely comprehensible detail. It lurches from scenes of intense debate to scenes of soapy melodrama. The dial is mostly turned up to ‘shouty’.
You imagine that, in 10, 20 or 30 years time, ‘After the Battle’ will be of value to historians of the Arab Spring. It’s a film conceived and constructed in the eye of the storm – full of contemporary debates and characters that emerge from real social, economic and political divisions and allegiances. However, as a film, it’s an indecipherable, chaotic blitzkrieg of half-baked ideas and hot-headed dramatisations of reality. In that sense, you could say it’s true to its source material.