Swedish writer and director Tarik Saleh dives in deep with neo-noir film The Nile Hilton Incident. Beautifully shot with brilliant acting, the movie takes place days before the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. Set on the streets of Cairo prior to the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak, The Nile Hilton Incident juggles politics and police procedurals during the investigation of a murdered Egyptian singer. The result is a fascinating story that develops amidst a city on the verge of chaos.
The film opens with Salwa, a young Sudanese woman (Mari Malek), cleaning rooms at the prestigious Nile Hilton Hotel. Salwa is solemn and silent on screen, implying she carries scars from some unspoken trauma. In an almost hypnotic sequence of events, Salwa quietly witnesses the murder of a famous club singer while carrying out her cleaning duties. Malek excels at portraying this character, suggesting that she draws inspiration from her own life experiences as a former Sudanese refugee. The character’s transformation from catatonic to active survivalist is compelling, and while Salwa doesn’t spend too much time on the screen, her sense of urgency pairs nicely with Saleh’s interpretation of a chaotic, post-revolution Cairo.
As Salwa hides out, the main protagonist of the film Norein enters the picture. Played by Fares Fares, Noredin is an unscrupulous detective with a moral compass in need of declination. He steals money from murder scenes, takes bribes, and spends his evenings smoking cigarettes and watching as protesters begin to gather in the streets below. When Noredin is brought onto the case of the murdered singer, no one expects him to do his job. In fact, his superiors are surprised when he refuses to follow their instruction to dismiss the murder as a suicide.
As with most murder mysteries, nothing is as it seems, and Noredin’s obsession with the case is reminiscent of Detective Josephus Miller’s fascination with Julie Mao in The Expanse. Fares as Noredin is brilliant with his slicked back hair, casual cigarette, and intense gaze. He plays redemption well and it’s easy to want his character to succeed. Noredin’s loneliness and pain is expressed perfectly in Fares eyes, which are intense and serve as focal points for many of his interactions.
The cinematography of The Nile Hilton Incident is beautiful, gritty, vibrant, immersive, and speckled with hues of indigo and burnt umber. Each scene is meant to fascinate, and while The Nile Hilton Incident is adequately dreary and depressing to watch, it leaves you with a glassy-eyed fascination that stays for days. Melancholy and absorbing elegance are good descriptors for the film, which boasts moments that are both sumptuous and brutal. Salah does noir well and provides his audience with a perfect case study on what it feels like to navigate dysfunction and futility.