The Nile Hilton incident is a 2017 film directed by Tarik Saleh. It is a thriller set in the days around the outbreak of the so-called Egyptian revolution of the 25th of January 2011 and it is incredibly powerful. I highly recommend it! Since I assume that only few of you have had the chance to see it, I will avoid spoilers and I will only write down the reasons why, in my opinion, The Nile Hilton incident is a film worth watching.
First of all, the film uses a real historical event as a framework for a fictional yet realistic story. The combination of the two works great, and the choice of a policeman as the protagonist is very appropriate given the key role played by the Egyptian police in the last years of the Mubarak regime and during the clashes in January 2011. The film clearly condemns the corrupt regime of the time. We see policemen collecting bribes and torturing prisoners (nothing surprising, think about the Giulio Regeni case), we see a crony regime where those with power get away with anything and those without are continuously harassed… In short, we see a dirty society, dirty in every sense of the word. Against this background, the film tells a story which is clearly inspired by the assassination of Suzanne Tamim, a Lebanese singer whose murder in 2008 was commissioned by a powerful Egyptian tycoon.
In short, The Nile Hilton incident is not an invitation for people to spend their holidays in Egypt! It is certainly not surprising that the production was denied the opportunity to shoot in Cairo, and therefore had to make the movie in Casablanca. In any case, the film works both as a thriller and as a sort of documentary about Mubarak’s Egypt. An example of a movie which tried to do the same but didn’t succeed comes to mind. In Jupiter holdja (Jupiter’s Moon, which also came out in 2017) by Kornél Mundruczó, neither the story nor the realistic setting in which it takes place come out as believable But I digress…
This film works because the actors are very good and make their characters credible, so much so that sometimes we wonder if we are watching a real documentary. The situations are all extremely realistic. The protagonist, Fares Fares, is hypnotic with his disillusioned gaze and his always-lit cigarette. More generally, all the actors are able to convey the uneasiness of living in the rotten and decadent society in which their characters move.
The soundtrack is sharp, as are all the dialogues. The whole sound compartment is well done, with the constant noise of the streets full of old cars and noisy people which almost always accompanies the action. In fact, the movie is almost a noir: there are lots of scenes shot in the dark, the cigarette smoke is always present, and the plot advances not so much thanks to the actions of the protagonist, but rather with a sense of inexorable fate happening despite the actions of the characters. The constant background noise only emphasizes the uselessness of the actions taken to fight against the Establishment.
It is also interesting to note that the film is clear about setting the the story only a few days away from the revolution. This sense of impending doom is like a shadow that accompanies every moment of Fares’ investigation. There is tension and at the same time there is also a sense of announced defeat. It’s a really peculiar atmosphere!
In short, The Nile Hilton incident is a must-see. It deals with many topics and never does so in a trivial way. It makes us think about our role in the society in which we live; about how we live our interpersonal relationships and how they crystallize over time without us ever questioning them; about changes and our expectations about the (in)stability of the future… It’s a great example of good European cinema (it’s a Swedish, Danish and German co-production)! Ciao!