Friday 9 June 2017

Sydney Film Festival (7) - THE NILE HILTON INCIDENT (Tarik Saleh, Sweden, Germany, Denmark) Reviewed by Barrie Pattison

The Nile Hilton Incident looks like a match for the Egyptian crime movies they used to show in the multiplexes in Western Sydney. We should have had some more of that. I was becoming a Mohamed Henedy fan.

In fact this authentic looking account of incidents in Cairo, shifted a couple of years to the 2011 Tahir Square riots, was actually filmed in Morocco by a Sweden- Germany-Denmark unit directed by ex-graffiti artist Tarik Saleh, who did the intriguing animated Metropia. The current film’s rising star Fares Fares does actually come from Cairo making him the film’s most authentic element. Fares2 also did one of the voices in Metropia.

The Nile Hilton Incident is being called film noir, which probably sells tickets, but in fact it’s a pastiche of elements of a whole range of crime movies, Laura, The Big Heat, Heavy Metal, Gorky Park and The Night Manager among them. This is blended in with its bleak depiction of the Mohamed Morsi era.

The lead is a Cairo police force major whose main duties seem to be making the pick-ups in his beat up red hard top for the week’s kickbacks. Any case they investigate ends when the bribes have been collected. “We’ve got the money.”

Fares’ life is arid. His wife has left him. Leisure is smoking a joint in a seedy brothel, watching his TV which will only pick up an Italian speaking channel or eating frozen meals on his own. He keeps on switching his pistol from one convenient spot to another but the only time he fires it is not when a motor scooter hit man takes out his cousin with a burst of machine gun fire, but to smash a full length mirror - not a piece of ham handed symbolism like Le jour se leve (Marcel Carne) or The Brave Bulls (Robert Rossen) either.

A glamorous Tunisian pop star is found dead in a suite at the Nile Hilton and our man is sent in to wind up the case. They don’t even call out the lab boys. What no one knows at that stage is that Sudanese hotel maid Mari Malek saw the killer leave the apartment.  Complications ensue when one of the dead girl’s also glamorous fellow entertainers comes to the station to demand progress on the case. Other officers gawp and Fares tells her “This is no place for you” but he is edged into an awareness that he is still a police officer involved in an investigation. Think John Ireland in Farewell My Lovely. Pretty much without wanting it, Fares begins to solve the case - incriminating photos, making it with the club singer, paying off officers from another district to arrest her pimp and following leads that connect with a member of the Egyptian parliament living in a gated community with its own golf course and featured on press ads for his new housing development which will usher in a new Cairo.

His uncle protector department head, through whom Fares got the job, is distraught but instead of getting them all fired, our hero is promoted to Colonel and told to wear his new uniform on a visit to the State Security office.

After the nice uncle breaks out the jumper leads and pours water on the cement floor, Colonel Fares gets fighting mad despite being told “We’ve already got the money”. The MP tells his lawyer to move his wife and children out of the country. However, the Tahir Square demonstrations break out with the final scene being the night time streets filling with protesters who stop beating up Fares (“We are not like them”) while workers cover the face of Mubarak painted on the side of a high rise. The audience at the State seemed to relate to that image. I thought it was pretty good too when it was George Raft in Shanghai at the end of Intrigue seventy years back.

It would be interesting to know if this mash up of  such diverse elements is conscious or not. It is so seamless and so involving. I’ll watch what Saleh and his cosmopolitan chums do next.

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