×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Nile Hilton Incident’

An Egyptian cop tries to unravel a murder mystery in the days before the country’s 2011 revolution in Tarik Saleh’s potently bleak neo-noir.

With:
Fares Fares, Mari Malek, Yasser Ali Maher, Slimane Daze, Ahmed Seleem, Mohamed Yousry, Hichem Yacoubi, Hania Amar. (Arabic dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5540188/

Proof that classical genres are always ready to be retrofitted for the modern age, “The Nile Hilton Incident” transplants the dark, cynical heart of film noir to the streets of Cairo in the days leading up to the 2011 revolution that would eventually oust President Hosni Mubarak. Swedish writer-director Tarik Saleh’s crime drama about a cop investigating the murder of a beautiful singer is a paranoid portrait of individual and systemic corruption that leaves none of its characters unscarred. Blending procedural thrills with politicized commentary, this gripping import (based, in part, on a real-life 2008 case) should attract sizable domestic interest following its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Millions of Egyptians began protesting Mubarak’s reign beginning on Jan. 25, 2011 – a date that serves as the climactic setting of “The Nile Hilton Incident.” Saleh’s film commences shortly before that momentous turn of events, with a young Sudanese girl named Salwa (Mari Malek) who, while working as a cleaning lady at the titular hotel, overhears an argument in a room, out of which two men, in relatively brief succession, leave, the second one after having killed a woman. Salwa escapes this assassin, and tidying up the mess is left to Noredin (Fares Fares), a cop who has few qualms about pilfering cash from the scene of the crime, but who nonetheless is compelled to figure out who’s behind this murder, even though his superiors, including his uncle, Kamal (Yasser Ali Maher), are eager to sweep it under the rug.

Noredin’s inquiry immediately points him toward Shafiq (Ahmed Seleem), a real-estate developer and parliament member. Shafiq denies responsibility for the death of the girl, a local singer and prostitute named Lalena, who it turns out worked with a sleazy pimp named Nagy (Hichem Yacoubi) to take compromising photos of her clients (including Shafiq) that could then be used as blackmail. The film’s intro sequences makes clear that Shafiq had another mystery man (Slimane Daze) actually do away with Lalena. And the fact that these would-be culprits are both in league with – and shielded by – the police and governmental bigwigs is obvious to everyone, including Noredin, who finds himself at every turn stymied by people, and institutions, more concerned with self-interest than the truth.

After chasing numerous avenues that culminate in dead ends (as well as ominous warnings about his own professional and personal safety), Noredin is informed by Shafiq, “There’s no justice here.” That reality is as inescapable as the smog is thick in Cairo, a city the movie presents as a fugue-like dystopian wasteland littered with the bodies of innocents and the broken shards of the laws intended to protect them. Director Saleh’s frequent cutaways to his metro skyline evoke a sense of “Chinatown”-by-way-of-“Blade Runner” bleakness, while his infrequent snippets of TV news footage create anticipation for a forthcoming revolutionary conflagration set to engulf everyone and everything in its path.

Stuck in the center of this cesspool, Noredin proves incapable of affecting anything resembling real change, and Fares’ performance – all world-weary resignation and desperate righteousness – captures a poignant sense of helplessness. That’s especially true when he decides to become involved with Gina (Hania Amar), a friend of Lalena’s who’s also engaged in the crooner-cum-working-girl trade. Still grieving over his dead wife, Noredin knows that his behavior will invariably compromise him (and his investigation). Still, he proceeds accordingly, desperate for a sliver of genuine human connection, and buoyed by his knowledge that any indiscretion can be washed away with a bribe.

By the time it arrives at its showdown amid Cairo’s burgeoning uprising, “The Nile Hilton Incident” has indulged in so many grim twists that it’s hard not to read it, and its downbeat ending, as a stinging commentary on the venality of the Mubarak era, as well as the futility of the forthcoming revolution to hold the nation’s actual villains accountable. Like the finest noir, what springs forth from Saleh’s film is the dreary belief that the bad sleep well while the rest are left to suffer in the streets.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'The Nile Hilton Incident'

Reviewed at Magno Screening Room, New York, Jan. 17, 2017. (In Sundance Film Festival — World Dramatic Competition.) Running time: 107 MIN.

Production: (Sweden-Denmark-Germany) A Match Factory presentation in co-production with Ostlicht Filmproduktion, Final Cut for Real, Film Vast, Nordsvensk Filmunderhällning, Sveriges Television, Chimney, Scanbox and Copenhagen Film Fund with support from the Swedish Film Institute, Eurimages, Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung, the Danish Film Institute, West Danish Film Fund and Atmo. (International sales: The Match Factory, Germany.) Producer: Kristina Åberg. Executive producers, Fares Fares, Tom Persson, Mikael Ahlström, Lars Rodvaldr, Tarik Saleh, Kristina Åberg, Emil Wiklund, Jon Wigfield. Co-producers, Karim Debbagh, Monica Hellstrøm, Marcel Lenz, Signe Byrge Sørensen.

Crew: Director, writer: Tarik Saleh. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Pierre Aïm. Editor: Theis Schmidt.

With: Fares Fares, Mari Malek, Yasser Ali Maher, Slimane Daze, Ahmed Seleem, Mohamed Yousry, Hichem Yacoubi, Hania Amar. (Arabic dialogue)

More Film

  • Reese Witherspoon Kerry Washington Ryan Reynolds

    Market for Package Deals and Original Ideas Heats Up Ahead of Platform Launches

    Practically every studio in town wanted it, but in the end it was Apple that swept in to nab the reinterpretation of “A Christmas Carol” with Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds. To buy the highly coveted package, the tech giant was willing to shell out more than $60 million to the stars and the film’s [...]

  • Ruben Fleischer

    Ruben Fleischer Returns to His Roots for 'Zombieland: Double Tap'

    Recapturing the personality of a successful film for its follow-up can be a challenging task for a filmmaker, given the story told, characters involved and especially the time passed between installments. But even after 10 years, “Zombieland: Double Tap” director Ruben Fleischer knew exactly what to focus on to ensure that his sequel lived up [...]

  • Maleficent

    How 'Maleficent' Sequel's Characters Drove Costumes and Special Effects Makeup

    The art of making sequels demands a fine balance between revisiting an existing world and giving the audience something new to chew on. For Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” costume designer Ellen Mirojnick and special effects makeup designer David White started with the familiar and built things out from there. “This movie is a fantastic [...]

  • Michael Caine poses for a portrait

    Michael Caine, Lena Headey to Star in Modern-Day Version of 'Oliver Twist'

    Michael Caine, Lena Headey and pop star Rita Ora are to star in “Twist,” a modern-day, gender-bending film interpretation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel “Oliver Twist” for Sky, which will release the film day and date in theaters and on its pay-TV platform. The title role of Oliver is played by Jude Law’s son Raff [...]

  • Lucia Milazzotto

    Rome MIA Director Lucia Milazzotto Talks Linear TV and Theatrical Comeback

    MIA market director Lucia Milazzotto is the main architect of Rome’s new format post-Mipcom, pre-AFM confab launched five years ago to serve as a driver for the Italian industry in the global arena. The MIA acronym stands for (Mercato Internazionale Audiovisivo, or International Audiovisual Market). Milazzotto spoke to Variety about how this unique event featuring [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content