We Are Building a New Cairo – The Nile Hilton Incident (London Film Festival Review)

Rating:

Set between the new year terrorist attack in Alexandria and the Egyptian Revolution which ousted controversial president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Tarik Saleh’s fictional thriller is a magnificent tale of corruption, mistrust and deception. A European production but vocalised entirely in Egyptian colloquial Arabic, The Nile Hilton Incident is Saleh’s forth feature length picture and a serious step up in both storytelling and ambition from his previous movies.

When a famous singer is murdered during an evening with a male friend at the Hilton hotel, Fares Fares’s dead-pan police commander Noredin Mostafa is bought in to investigate. Initially blasé about the whole affair, he starts to have suspicions when the death is quickly pronounced as a suicide. When Salwa, a Sudanese house-keeper, played with excellent downtrodden fear by Mari Malek, realises that she witnessed a man exit the room around the time of the death, she becomes afraid of the consequences and disappears into the impoverished Sudanese community. When Noredin follows the trail to highly respected businessman and personal friend of Mubarek, Hatem Shafiq, played with wonderful arrogance and superiority by Ahmed Selim, he is warned to accept the death as suicide and forget the case. Aggravated at the way Shafiq has gained judicial immunity due to his prominent position in society, he starts to dig deeper into the case which exposes layer upon layer of bribery and immorality within the business community and police forces.

What Saleh does excellently is to capture Egypt’s endemic corruption. While the chain smoking Noredin’s moral compass initially feels like the guiding ethical light through the narrative, he is as guilty as anyone for taking bribes and helping himself to the contents of dead victim’s wallets. The beauty of the story is that it’s never clear who can be trusted, the audience gaining progressive insight of the perversion through the eyes of its main man. A cast of multifaceted characters support the story superbly; Noredin’s uncle and head of police Kammal Mostafa (Ali Maher), his partner and subordinate Momo (Yousry), the glamourous and scheming Gina and sleazy businessman Shatiq; no-one is above venality and self-preservation as the events unfolds.

There are running comedic lines weaving through the movie, poking fun at the Egyptian nepotism and often sluggish work ethic; Noredin’s inability to get this TV fixed is wickedly facetious and his constant exasperation with proceedings is a lovely aside. This said, the film’s power is contained purely in the mistrust and fear rife throughout the middle eastern political landscape.

The Nile Hilton Incident is an excellent multidimensional political whodunnit with great performances set against the real-life events in Egypt over the past decade.

Dir: Tarik Saleh

Scr: Tarik Saleh

Cast: Fares Fares, Mari Malek, Yasser Ali Maher, Mohamed Yousry, Ahmed Selim, Hania Amar

Prd: Kristina Åberg

DOP: Pierre Aïm

Music: Krister Linder

Country: Germany, Denmark, Sweden

Year: 2017

Run Time: 106 minutes