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aka Cairo Confidential

D: Tarik Saleh / 111m

Cast: Fares Fares, Mari Malek, Yasser Ali Maher, Ahmed Selim, Hania Amar, Mohamed Yousry, Slimane Dazi, Hichem Yacoubi, Ger Duany, Mohamed Sanaaeldin Shafie

January 2011, Cairo. At the city’s Nile Hilton hotel, a man is seen leaving the room of a well-known singer, Lalena. Later, the same chambermaid, Salwa (Malek), who saw the first man leave, hears cries from the same room and another man leave. The singer has been murdered, and the investigation is given to Major Noredin Mostafa (Fares) of the local police. When he looks through her effects, Noredin finds a receipt for some photographs. When he collects them, he finds compromising pictures of the singer with a high profile politician, Hatem Shafiq (Selim). At this point the official verdict is given as suicide, but Noredin confronts Shafiq about his relationship with Lalena. To Noredin’s surprise, instead of arranging his dismissal from the police force, Shafiq uses his position to have the case reopened, and he asks Noredin to continue his investigation. But while a suspect is soon revealed – a club owner called Nagy (Yacoubi) with a profitable sideline in blackmail – what seems like an open and shut case soon becomes something much more insidious, and much more dangerous…

Set in the run up to the Egyptian Revolution of Dignity that began on 25 January 2011, The Nile Hilton Incident is a tense, riveting thriller that also uses the murder of Lebanese Arab singer Suzanne Tamim in Dubai in 2008 as the basis for its main storyline. It paints the Egyptian capital as a hotbed of political avarice and corruption, with bribery, torture, intimidation and murder as commonplace occurrences – and that’s just the police. Once Noredin takes on the case, it’s expected that he will tow the official line as instructed by his boss (and uncle) Kammal (Maher). But though he’ll steal cash from a murder victim, and accepts how important bribery is in keeping the status quo, Noredin is straightforward in his sense of justice: murder is untenable. With Shafiq backing him, he finds himself at odds with his own department, and in time, with the State Security services. And that’s without the added problem of an unexpected relationship with Lalena’s friend, Gina (Amar), who works for Nagy. As he learns more and more, he also finds that he can’t trust what he knows, or anyone around him. And when Salwa is targeted, Noredin has no choice but to keep her alive to ensure justice is served.

A tremendously atmospheric and moody thriller, with a terrific central performance from the ever-reliable Fares, the movie uses its political and procedural backdrop to great effect, and with the impending revolution brewing in the background, has an immediacy that draws in the viewer and maintains its grip from start to finish. Saleh, directing his own script, keeps things tightly focused every step of the way, even if the reason for Lalena’s death remains a mystery right until the end, and the motivation for Shafiq’s hiring Noredin is unnecessarily oblique. These niggling issues aside, the movie shifts and turns relentlessly, throwing Noredin and the viewer off track with smooth regularity, and in doing so, it keeps the depths of its corruption angle suitably obscured. Throughout, Saleh highlights the economic divide between Cairo’s elite and its less better off denizens, and foreshadows the revolution with judicious use of contemporary footage and casual remarks made by the characters. Alongside Fares there are good performances from Malek and Amar, and Pierre Aïm’s gritty cinematography adds to the compelling sense of a time and a place when the political and social norms were on the verge of being swept away forever.

Rating: 8/10 – a powerful and arresting thriller, The Nile Hilton Incident is intelligent and provocative, and coercive in its depiction of the events happening in Cairo at the time; rarely has the gradual exposure of a society’s seedy underbelly been this persuasive, or portrayed so vividly and matter-of-factly.

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