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Thread: THE NILE HILTON INCIDENT (Tarek Saleh 2017)

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    THE NILE HILTON INCIDENT (Tarek Saleh 2017)



    A moody Cairene whodunit of moral decay

    It's quite thrilling to see a deeply atmospheric film noir set in modern day Cairo, the very capital of weary anger and millennial cynicism, and Tarek Saleh's movie lives up to expectations with its echoes of Mann, Friedkin, and Melville. He himself has cited Lumet; an elegant chase down a stairway made me think of Reed's Third Man. The tradition is richly western, but the well-worn language of bribes and cover-ups here is Egyptian dialect, and though he was born in Sweden, this is a language Mr. Saleh seemed to understand well enough. There are Egyptian siren-songs. Cabs echo with the unmistakable voice of Abdel Halim Hafez, still loved and listened too though he died in 1977. Things change, nothing changes. Evil is ancient, bribes are the latest fashion. The muffled finale might remind you of Polanski's "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown." One witness flees the country across the desert, and the cop survives: that's a positive outcome, in this movie so drenched in worldly-wise fatalism you could get high off it.

    It's January 2011, just a few days before the start of the revolution that ended the 30-year reign of Hosni Mubarak. A young torch singer involved in a steamy affair is killed in the bedroom of one of the city's luxury hotels. Noredin (Fares Fares of Zero Dark Thirty and Safe House), the jaded police major assigned to the investigation, finds his trail leads to State Security and a member of Parliament who's also a construction magnate hyped on billboards - yet, cynical though he is, the Inspector still chooses to pursue this touchy case doggedly. And finding pleasure where he searches, for he will sleep with an exotic and beautiful singer, Gina (Hania Amar) - a dreamy spell-weaver who refreshes the meaning of the words "femme fatale." Gina is one of the murdered girl's cohorts, who he thinks will know a key suspect. She will smile at him, and at us, mysteriously, and murmur the word "wissem, wissem." What does it mean? There is an air of danger: We know Gina is treacherously close to the event. Noredin, soon promoted to colonel as if to neutralize him with rank, will have met all the suspects. They will mostly slip through his fingers. But he will not sleep, the cigarette in his mouth will remain lit, his hair will stay slick, the tie will hang loose, and the leather jacket will go on flopping around his long lean torso.

    It's all about who you know and who you can pay off and, as luck would have it, Cairo's chief of police, Kamal Mostafa (Yasser Ali Maher), happens to be Noredin's uncle - who repeatedly tells him this affair is only of interest to them for the money it will bring them.

    In a Sudanese ghetto of town overseen by its own mayor is a maid of the hotel, Salwa (Mari Malek), a witness to the killing whom Noredin tracks down and seeks to protect. Though people keep getting killed and Noredin sticks with the case despite his uncle's advice, he's no saint: he pays bribes with a bankroll stolen off a corpse. In a dryly specific scene, he's forced to pay a bribe to a gathering of cops in another neighborhood just so they let him transport a prisoner back into his own part of town, Kasr al-Nil.

    There is astonishing efficiency. In a neat baroque noir visual touch, we glimpse through an amber broken mirror a hit man quickly knifing two victims, and, after dispatching each, snapping their photo, k-ching k-ching, with his phone to report to his boss. There are film print photos too, of the Nile Hotel room action, with negatives, signs of a money-pumping system of spying and milking well-placed, illicit lovers.

    Noredin meets with the powerful suspect Hatem Shafiq (Ahmed Selim) who tells him he's being crazy and says outright: "There's no justice here." There isn't. But that doesn't mean there aren't charges and trials aplenty and there could be a frame-up here. A chief prosecutor spoken to on the phone in hushed, obsequious tones is the last word on who gets charged.

    We are in deep soup, an ugly creamy urban fog of cable disks, scattered cars, and trash cans. It feels like the teeming smog of Cairo, but I'd have liked it if the bulk of the movie could actually have been shot in Cairo itself (instead of mostly in Morocco and Sweden) with more gallabiyyas and bawwaabs and men smoking shishas at sidewalk cafes. But this is about mood, not sights, and the eye of Pierre Aïm (dp of La Haine and Polisse) and Glass-esque drone score of Krister Linder, not to mention the tall saggy Fares Fares' droopy mouth and beak-nosed face, fill in worlds of that. So does the Egyptian cast, who exude privilege, knowingness and cynicism in generous squirts, as needed. The sound of Egyptian Arabic is always in the air, creating atmosphere in itself nothing could match.

    Saleh's screenplay reminds non-Egyptians (who may never have registered it) that the chosen date for the revolution to begin in Tahrir Square, 25 January, was Police Day - and that one of its first events was that police were ordered to fire on protesters, and did. So much for Noredin's lonely crusade.

    The events of The Nile Hilton Incident are loosely based on a real 2008 crime, but it took place in another country and over a longer time. Saleh has shrunk it and concentrated it and put it in all the right noirish places, the posh pads and hovels, hotels, police station antirooms and jail cells, atmospheric dives, sleazy lounge bars, opium dens and sexy cabarets - and in Noredin's beat-up but indestructible car.

    Tarik Saleh is an ex-graffiti artist born in Sweden, a former magazine editor who has made documentaries about Che Guevara and Guantánamo, a gloomy animated sci-fi film, (Metropia), and a Swedish crime thriller called (Tommy). He has a sharp eye for social disintegration and moral decline which comes without a touch of preachiness or moralizing. He found the right canvas for his talents here. This is a gem.

    The Nile Hotel Incident, 104 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2017, where it won the grand jury prize for a dramatic film in the world cinema section, and was bought by Strand Releasing. Other festivals included Beaune, Seattle, Transylvania, Sydney and Munich. Released in France 5 July (French release title Le Caire Confidentiel) to enthusiastic reviews (AlloCiné press rating 3.9). US release (NYC) 11 Aug. at Quad Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinema; Los Angeles 1 Sept at Laemmie's Monica Film Center. Other theater releases coming.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Ottawa Canada
    Thank you so much Chris. Bravo.
    I'll try to see it wherever I can.
    You give one a Lot to ponder........
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    The Nile Hilton Incident - an atmospheric shot.

    Thanks Johann. Having lived two very memorable years in Cairo back in the day I was very excited to see this movie and I was not disappointed. We who know the town wish Saleh could have shot it there instead of Casablanca, but with Egypt under military dictatorship we certainly understand why it could not have been, and the Egyptian dialect makes it feel very authentic anyway. It's great that it got such a warm reception with the French critics: 3.9/5 is a really high AlloCiné rating. They called it "one of the great films noirs" and "the polar [crime movie] of the year."
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-10-2017 at 11:04 AM.


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