'After the Battle' by Egyptian director Yousry Nasrallah is the only film from Africa competing in the Cannes Festival. It addresses a hard subject: one of the events during the Arab Spring, the protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square that led to the fall of president Mubarak.
The political heat of the subject is also apparent in the director's words of criticism for the Israeli government, refusing to distribute his film in a country ''that mistreats Palestinians in the occupied territories''.
The principal character in 'After the Battle' is Mahmoud (Bassem Samra), one of those troopers who on February 2 2011 took part in the so-called 'battle of the camels' that brought bloodshed, wounded and deaths to Tahrir Square. The man found himself on Mubarak's side and launched himself on horseback against the crowd in the square that was calling for the president to go.
But Nasrallah does not wish to cast these troopers as "the bad guys in the story". He got to know some of these cavalry troops who starred in his documentary 'A propos des garons, des filles et du voile' and points instead his cine-camera at Nazlet, the poor area at the foot of the Giza pyramids, where people like Mahmoud live. In order to survive, these people take tourists around on their camels and horses. In Mahmoud's case, who became in the counter-revolution merely through hunger and desperation, the present is characterised by refusal and ostracism by society. He is saved, and given a revolutionary awareness of his condition as a poor person subject to every kind of corruption, by an evolved and passionate woman, Reem (Menna Chalabi), who takes his live and that of his family to her heart.
The director said that "For me, what counts is looking at the people and not at the stereotypes and the ideas these people embody. History is woven out of many small individuals."
For Nasrallah, Arab cinema "has some problems and not just because it is frowned upon by Islamic culture, but also because the market has doubtlessly shrunk. But if there are good ideas, it can work as well as any other cinema."
As for the counter-revolutionary cavalry, he says: "I do not wish to hold them up as models. They are probably people who fear the new, who fear losing their livelihood. The fact is that my country has not yet become used to democracy and the people of Egypt deserve this film: it is like a love letter written to them." Finally, asked by an Israeli journalist whether the film would be distributed in his country, Nasrallah replied: ''I do not want my film in Israel, at least not until the Israelis start treating the Palestinians in the occupied territories better''. When a small part of the journalists present applauded this, he added: "Why are you clapping? I have got nothing against Israel; I have many Israeli friends, like Gitai, but while my people have been able to rethink some of their positions, I don't think this can yet be said about Israel."