There are film genres that will always have an audience, and noirs about the corruption in political life are one of them. Like horror movies, these tend to be pretty much the same no matter what country they come from, which is why the Egypt-set thriller The Nile Hilton Incident can appeal to an American audience.
Set in January 2011, in week just prior to the events in which it appeared that a popular uprising would remove President Hosni Mubarak from power, the film begins as a murder mystery. A popular singer is found dead in a hotel room, her throat slit. When the government prosecutor closes the case as a suicide, it rouses the ire of the investigating detective, Noredin (Fares Fares, who Star Wars fans may recognize as Senator Vaspar from Rogue One).
Getting Noredin’s interest is no mean feat. He got the job because his uncle Gammel is the local police chief, and he’s happy to go through life taking all the money the crooked operators of Cairo press into his palm. But when he starts to pull at this exposed thread, it leads him to a construction tycoon and member of Parliament, some sleazy photographs, and a Sudanese refugee who can connect them.
Winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, The Nile Hilton Incident is satisfyingly unsurprising in its surprises. Cynical viewers will be comfortably reassured that the corruption of the rich and powerful is no different in one of the world’s oldest cities than it is here in one of the youngest democracies. (The Egyptian government being as sensitive as it is to charges like this, the film was actually shot in Casablanca, where no one is shocked—shocked!—to learn what’s going on.) The film’s tone has more in common with “Nordic noir” shows like The Killing and The Bridge than it does with the florid melodrama that characterizes popular Egyptian cinema, which may well be because writer-director Tarik Saleh may be Eqyptian by descent but is actually Swedish by birth.
The Nile Hilton Incident opens Friday at the Dipson Amherst theater.