There’s a terrific scene early on in The Nile Hilton Incident in which Fares Fares’ Commander Noredin Mostafa attends a crime scene and proceeds to rob the victim whilst in the midst of his investigation. It is an instance that perfectly captures the complexity of the world in which the film unfolds and establishes its lead as a fascinating protagonist.
Police corruption and social media revolutions are among the central themes of the film, written and directed by Sweden’s Tarik Saleh, which takes the 2008 murder of Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim in Dubai as its inspiration and transplants the story to Egypt and the lead up to 2011’s January 25 Revolution.
An imposing hunk of presence, Noredin Mostafa is paradigmatic of the rot at the core of Egyptian society under then President Hosni Mubarak. When not stealing from corpses, Mostafa finds himself often promoted by his nepotistic Uncle (Yasser Ali Maher) or being told to drop cases that do not sit well with the regime. Cases like the murder of pop-star and political-mistress Lalena in the upmarket Nile Hilton hotel. Those up high proclaim it suicide but Mostafa is not convinced, namely because a Sudanese maid called Salwa (Mari Malek) witnessed the crime itself.
Throughout the film an impressively visceral quality pervades and seems to disperse out from the screen itself. The air is thick with the dense, metaphoric smog that surrounds the near-constantly smoking Mostafa, whilst a sonorous quality allows unzipping and bed making to become sensual experiences. Many will liken this to Roman Polanski’s archetypal Chinatown but there are beats too of Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit as revolution threatens to erupt in the backdrop of the action.
An often gripping example of Scandinavian noir on international soil, The Nile Hilton Incident may tread on a readymade cinematic path but is elevated by strong performances, an engaging depth and distinct atmosphere.