MIFF Review: The Nile Hilton Incident

Based on the real life murder of an Egyptian singer, and using the days leading up to the 2011 riots in Cairo as a backdrop, Swedish filmmaker Tarik Saleh (himself of Egyptian descent) has shrewdly crafted a tightly wound suspense drama. 

The story centres on police officer Noredin Mostafa, (Lebanese-born Swedish actor Fares Fares). Mostafa, like anyone else in a position of authority it seems, is steeped in corruption. He thinks nothing of fleecing the wallet of a corpse when he arrives on a crime scene. After all, it’s what everybody does, including his boss, and uncle, Police General Kammal Mostafa (Yasser Ali Maher).

The latest crime scene that Noredin arrives at is the death of a well known singer, Lalena, who has had her throat cut in one of the rooms at the Nile Hilton. There is a witness, the Sudanese hotel maid Salwa (Mari Malek), but given Salwa has no working papers, she has discreetly been whisked away without a trace. What she knows threatens to incriminate someone in a position of great power, which in turn puts her own personal safety in jeopardy.

The film plays like a classic noir, there’s a femme fatale who seems to be leading Noredin into danger, yet with whom he can’t help but be seduced by, and every possible avenue to the truth leads to further corruption and life threatening scenarios.

Despite his considerable flaws, Noredin is determined to get to the truth and compared to the other shady figures around him, he’s the closest we’re going to get to a hero. Besides, Fares, who’s in pretty much every scene,  always infuses his characters with a great deal of dignity, and his hang dog Noredin, who often moons over photos of his now absent wife, is basically a decent person who wants to see the real criminals pay for their sins. He’s like a slightly dodgy Sam Spade who eventually becomes the film’s moral compass.

Fares also shows glimpses of the comic timing which featured more prominently earlier in his career. His Noredin struggles to conquer such 21st century phenomena as Facebook and cable TV.

Krister Linder’s score, in keeping with the film, is for the main part restrained and unfussy, before building to a stunning climax. Pierre Aim’s camerawork is skillfully agile, particularly as Cairo’s natives becomes more restless.

Casablanca seamlessly doubles for Cairo, the original shooting location, which ironically was shut down by the Egyptian authorities. 

The Nile Hilton Incident was awarded the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. It’s an exceptionally rigorous noir thriller that benefits greatly from its exotic locations, political relevance, and first rate cast.

✭✭✭✭1/2

The Nile Hilton Incident is currently screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival

Richard Leathem @dickiegee