Released in French theaters on October 26, 2022, Tarik Saleh’s new film surprisingly won the screenplay prize at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. Navigating between genre cinema and political meditation, it intrigues but struggles to convince.
Egyptian Swede by his father, Tarik Saleh is known for Confidential Cairo (The Nile Hilton Incident, 2017), a thriller or an inspector discovers the involvement of relatives of Egyptian power in the murder of a young singer. In addition to this success in theaters and then on Netflix, he also directed an episode of the series in the United States Westworld and the feature film The Contractor (The Contractor, 2022), visible on Prime video, a purely American thriller where a former Marine finds himself trapped by pharmaceutical trafficking. And he was, quickly consecrated, in official competition at the Cannes festival with Boy from Heaven. The film is titled The Cairo Conspiracy in French, a title that corresponds quite well to its content by insisting on political manipulation while the English title sticks to the religious content (the boy from heaven) while introducing ambiguity (the boy who fell from the sky, which is a good thing) , and thus leads back to manipulation. Because that is the subject of the film.
It takes up the framework that made the success ofa prophet by Jacques Audiard: an innocent young man who, faced with corruption and power in a closed environment, pulls out of the game and reverses situations to his advantage. Adam is indeed a simple son of a fisherman who integrates the prestigious and colossal Al-Azhar University in Cairo, epicenter of the power of Sunni Islam. On the first day of school, the Grand Imam at the head of the institution suddenly dies and now Adam finds himself in the middle of a relentless power struggle between the religious and political elites of the country to impose a successor. Intensely interpreted by Tawfeek Barhom, naive and silent at the start, Adam gains in confidence and independence until he takes advantage of what happens to him.
Filming authorizations having been refused three days before its start, Tarik Saleh had to return to Casablanca to shoot Confidential Cairo. The film was banned in Egypt and it is likely that, from its content, Boy from Heaven will be too. He shot it in Sweden and Turkey where the Süleymaniye mosque in Istanbul offered him the architectural magnificence of the place and the necessary framework for the plunging shots that he likes to situate the actions as much as the articulation of powers within the mosque. The two films have in common a sinuous scenario but also the presence of Farès Farès, an excellent actor who plays Colonel Ibrahim here. This agent of the secular State Security intrigues to make Adam an active mole (called here “angel”!), under the orders of General Al Sakran (Mohammad Bakri) who affirms that “the country cannot have two pharaohs” . In one case as in the other, Farès Farès interprets an officer of power who leads his boat in a sea of corruption and complex political intrigues that the intertwining of this scenario does not always make it possible to clearly define. The thriller is respected, with its secret doors, its plots, its double-dealing, its reversals and the cynicism of its characters.
All this plays out within a caricatured politico-religious sphere without our being able to grasp the mysteries of the heavy repression of freedom of expression in Egypt, illustrated for example by the release under pressure from Amnesty International of Ramy Shaath after 900 days of detention without trial. The sets and costumes, the pageantry of the teaching rituals in the courtyard which mobilize a number of extras, the theological discussions as much as the psalmody competition can fascinate but reinforce the distance that one can experience, which is also and above all hollowed out by the desire to meet the requirements of the thriller, with the desire to keep you going without really adopting its codes. This gives a scalpel-like start to the film, quite catchy, which largely takes advantage of the beauty of the location and the magnetism of the context, but it dissolves little by little in a scriptwriting muddle which makes the appeal to the genre as much as the accumulation themes become factors of superficiality as much as bewilderment.
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The Cairo Conspiracy, by Tarik Saleh | africultures
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