Tarik Saleh’s The Nile Hilton Incident unravels a noir thriller against the political background of Egypt’s revolution in 2011.
Hotel Egyptby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
A noirish thriller set in Cairo turns into political comment as mass demonstrations topple Egypt’s President Mubarak in 2011. Fares Fares is Nuredin, a police detective who owes his job to nepotism – literally, through his police chief uncle (Yasser Ali Maher). Not above helping himself to the contents of a murder victim’s wallet, he’s just an everyday corrupt cog in the institutionally corrupt workings of the entire system. He’s got baggage – he’s a chain-smoking widower who lives alone.
Then he’s called to investigate a murder in the Nile Hilton Hotel in Tahrir Square, soon to be the scene of government-shaking violent confrontations. The victim is a beautiful woman who turns out to be a popular Tunisian singer, Lalena, There’s a receipt for photos which Nuredin takes. When he gets them developed he finds compromising pictures of super-rich property developer and MP Hatem Shafiq (Ahmed Selim). Lalena’s body was found by Sudanese chambermaid Salwa (Mari Malek), who is working illegally. She is sacked and disappears, fleeing for her life. The pictures and what Salwa saw point to a connection with Shafiq, but his wealth and connections with the President make him appear to be invulnerable.
Lalena’s friend Gina (Hania Amar) comes to the police for help and against his better judgement Nuredin becomes involved. By doing so, he starts to become aware of the web of corruption that surrounds him, which he previously turned a blind eye to. And the background to the shady, dilapidated streets of Cairo is the growing political tension that will eventually oust the President. The film also uncovers the hard-scrabble lives of illegal immigrants, the way that migrant workers like Salwa are exploited and the slum conditions they go home to after they finish their shifts in luxury hotels.
The city, the country and all its institutions right up to the top have a dark, venal heart and Nuredin is no hero, though he discovers some saving graces within himself as the scales fall from his eyes. Blackmail and corruption still exist at the end despite Nuredin’s revelation, though the protests in Tahrir Square may bring hope. The relationship between story and setting is symbiotic. Based on a true story of the murder of a Lebanese singer, and directed and written by Tarik Saleh, a Swede of Egyptian descent, this intriguing and illuminating film grubbily recreates a failing society that engulfs individuals and spits them out and where only violent revolution can effect change – maybe.
The Nile Hilton Incident premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and is released on 2 March 2018 in the UK.