Cannes 2012: ‘After The Battle’ Gets Inside Egypt’s Facebook Revolution

On opening day of Cannes, an intimate look at the revolution via a relationship between a woman and a man from the upper and lower class of Egypt

It’s rare for a film to tell a story about a revolution right on the heels of that historic event, but "After the Battle" demonstrates that in the age of modern media we even get retrospective at warp speed.

Debuting on the opening day of the Cannes Film Festival, ”After the Battle” offers an intimate look at the 2011 revolution via a relationship between a woman and a man from the upper and lower class of Egypt.

It’s not a love story, really. It is more about two worlds colliding on the backdrop of a crumbling political state. The film tells us much about modern-day Egypt and why it will be so difficult to rescue a democracy from the fervent ideals of the Facebook revolution.

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The film is set on the background of the 2011 revolution playing out in Tahrir Square, and indeed “Tahrir” is used throughout the film as shorthand for the revolution. 

Directed by Yousry Nasrallah, “After the Battle” brings us the story of Rim, a divorced advertising professional turned political activist, who strikes up a friendship with an anti-revolutionary, Mahmoud.

Mahmoud was one of a group of “Tahrir Square Knights,” who rode into the square to break up the protests.

Mahmoud is an avatar for much of the Egyptian population: poor, frustrated, uneducated and manipulated by the Mubarak regime.

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And Rim is a symbol of the women who took a leading role in the political protests. She is articulate, argumentative and fundamentally naïve.

She does not realize that Mahmoud takes her interest as sexual. (And it is, vaguely.) She does not seem to notice that her interference in the delicate family balance of husband, wife and two children will upset the broader balance of the neighborhood community, which looms so large in Arab life.

There are some confusing cultural elements to the film, probably due to acting traditions in Arab cinema. Rim, with her saucer-sized brown eyes, seems to smile at everything that happens, even the bad stuff. And Fatma, the wife of the horseman Mahmoud, seems to shriek all too easily in the manner of Egyptian soaps.

But there are scenes that get at piercing truths. In one, Mahmoud breaks down and explains that that he rode his horse into Tahrir Square by choice, as his personal call to be noticed by the upper classes as well as the Mubarak regime. The word “dignity” looms large from every quarter.

After all, it was the upper-class pashas who with the regime’s consent that built a wall between Mahmoud’s poor neighborhood and the pyramids, leaving him and his neighbors to wither. (“It’s like Israel,” he bemoans, in a cutting insult.)

For those who are curious about what Arab revolution feels like on the inside, “After The Battle” gives us a tantalizing taste