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Edelstein on Netflix’s Best Documentary Nominee The Square: The Arab Spring, via the Streets

This review originally ran in October 2013 when the film was out in limited release. Tomorrow, it will debut on Netflix's streaming service.

For years (more often since 9/11), we’ve heard that the “Arab street” is where one goes to ascertain what people of the ­Middle East (outside Israel) are actually thinking — the impression being that said perspective is monolithic and was never more united than in Egypt’s Tahrir Square during the 2011 Arab Spring, which brought down President Hosni Mubarak. In her penetrating documentary The Square, ­Jehane Noujaim goes into the street — or, rather, the various lanes of the square, roaming among individuals with disparate philosophies and aims — and shows you how fragile that unity is. Actually, fragile might be too soft a word. The disequilibrium is perpetual — and explosive.

The protagonists of this as-it-happens documentary are a secular young man named Ahmed, a Muslim Brotherhood member named Magdy, and a celebrity human-rights activist, Khalid Abdalla, who appeared in the film The Kite Runner. Being a lovable, tolerant fellow, Magdy is actually a poor representative of the Muslim Brotherhood — but my hunch is that Noujaim can’t stomach their ideology even for second. As Mubarak (who kills protesters) yields to the army (which kills protesters) yields to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi (who kills protesters) yields to the army, Noujaim interviews sundry government officials — who spout the party line and whose words are vaporous and drift away. Then it’s back to the square for the truth. The Square is inner-world-shaking.