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Originally published Thursday, January 16, 2014 at 3:04 PM

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‘The Square’: A close-up look at unrest in Cairo

A 3.5-star review of “The Square,” an up-close look at the action in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the revolutionary upheaval of 2011-2013.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3.5 stars

‘The Square,’ a documentary directed by Jehane Noujaim. 108 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains violence). Sundance Cinemas.

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Some documentaries piece together a story after it’s already been told; others, present from the beginning, sweep us along in a story as it’s unfolding. Jehane Noujaim’s remarkable “The Square,” nominated this week for an Academy Award for best documentary, belongs to the latter group. Filmed over two tumultuous, violent years — summer 2011 to summer 2013 — in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the film follows a long-simmering revolution in Egypt, culminating with the forced removal of a new president.

Noujaim, an Egyptian-American filmmaker whose previous documentaries include 2004’s “Control Room,” gets us on the ground with the protesters gathering in the Square — hearing their anxious voices, seeing their makeshift tents, watching their faces as history is made around them, and by them. The camera becomes a revolutionary: running, chasing, breathlessly jittery, up in the face of interrogators. It shows us, close up, the horrific, bloody wounds on the back of an activist musician tortured by the Egyptian military; it shows us, from far away, the surging sea of people in and around the square, waiting for news, for change, for peace.

“The Square” is often chaotic, but that’s what revolution is; messy and painful, sped-up and slowed down. “There’s only so much you can see,” whispers one of the half-dozen activists the film follows, worn down by the violence in the streets. “At some point I’m going to explode.” And, as with history, the film doesn’t really end — the story in the streets of Cairo goes on. “The Square” concludes, though, with a simple and moving dedication “to the memory of those who lost their lives, and the countless individuals who continue to fight for freedom.”

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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