This politically charged crime thriller from Tarik Saleh packs a powerful punch
Inspired by a real-life incident, Swedish writer-director Tarik Saleh's blistering third narrative feature is a straightforward police procedural that packs a powerful punch thanks to its incendiary political backdrop. An investigation into a murder at Egypt's titular hotel, which reaches the highest level of government, runs in parallel with the beginnings of the civil uprising that would eventually overwhelm the country and lead to the overthrow of President Mubarak.
Set in Cairo in the days leading up to the pivotal protest in Tahrir Square on January 25, 2011, the film follows detective Noredin Mostafa (Fares Fares) as he goes about his job – mainly accepting bribes and protection money from the citizens on his beat. When he is called to investigate the murder of a young woman at the Nile Hilton, he follows the trail to wealthy MP Hatem Shafiq (Ahmed Selim). Pressured to drop the case, Noredin instead becomes increasingly entangled, first with the dead woman's friend Gina (Hania Amar) and then the only witness, Sudanese immigrant worker Salwa (a deeply sympathetic Mari Malek).
Engaging Swedish-Lebanese actor Fares – who is becoming familiar to English-speaking audiences thanks to roles in the likes of Child 44 and Rogue One – plays Noredin with an air of weary resignation that gives way to professional indignation and, finally, moral outrage as the case develops. Saleh's smart screenplay distils the wider political issues into the journey of this troubled man, who after years of tolerating the system realises it's no longer tenable and that difficult choices must be made. Noredin is no moral crusader, however; he is forced into taking action and, when he does, it proves utterly futile in the face of such endemic venality.
Despite the fact that filming in Egypt was shut down by the authorities, cinematographer Pierre Aïm has convincingly turned Casablanca and Berlin into the streets of pre-revolution Cairo. Dark and oppressive, with a total lack of natural light, this is a place where deals are made, and fates are sealed, firmly in the shadows. The occasional wide shot – the glittering skyline from a roof terrace, the streets filled with optimistic protesters – speaks of a city, and lives, mired in the old ways while desperately trying to find a way forward.
Limited release from Fri 2 Mar.