Thursday, August 10, 2017

Forget Islamic terrorism: Egyptian life is plenty awful in Tarik Saleh's NILE HILTON INCIDENT

Corruption is endemic and epidemic, top tier to bottom, in THE NILE HILTON INCIDENT, and if what we see in this dismaying, depressing movie is even halfway true, that corruption is destroying whatever is left of the country of Egypt. All this begins, movie-wise, with the police and a particular cop named Noredin (played by that excellent twin-titled Lebanese-born/Swedish-raised actor, Fares Fares), who not only takes bribes as a matter of course but actually steals a wad of money from the wallet of a recently murdered chanteuse about as easily as you or I would drink our morning coffee.

As written and directed by Tarik Saleh, shown at left, the film is set back a few years, just after a certain student was beaten to death by police, thus giving rise to what was soon to become Egypt's version of Arab Spring and those amazing street protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square. As this incident-filled film proceeds, we meet everyone from high-level police officers and their underlings to some classy prostitutes and their pimps, Sudanese hotel workers, a mammothly wealthy real estate mogul and a very funny taxi driver able to turn his beliefs and allegiances 180 degrees -- at a moment's notice. Trust is nowhere to be found, and when it appears, it's good for maybe five minutes max.

Yes, this film is depressing and distressing, offering not a chance in hell for any kind of justice for just about anyone we meet. Most don't deserve it, this is true, and the few who do are the ones with the least chance of every seeing it in action.

Yet The Nile Hotel Incident moves fast enough to keep us alert and trying to puzzle it all out. And while there is a tad too much coincidence, there is also such a firm capture of time, place and character that it is not difficult to stick with the movie.

In fact, its string of killings, with the murderer's connections kept secret until nearly the finale, is so brutal and unnerving (never shown in close-up, however, so we're spared being voyeurs at a slaughter) that the revelation of the killer's place in the scheme of things so thoroughly implicates the highest levels of power that all hope is immediately abandoned.

The movie's close takes place as the Tahrir Square demonstrations reach their zenith, even as our anti-hero Noredin is beaten to a pulp in the middle of it all. Finally, The Nile Hilton Incident delivers a good, solid peek into why that particular Arab Spring never would or could lead to anything real. After all, when everyone and everything is corrupt, to whom is one supposed to turn for help?

Is the movie simply dealing in cheap cynicism? I suspect not. This is what a country becomes when it has endured decades and decades of dictatorship and corruption. Look at Russia for another example. And Israel as a more recent newcomer to the group. My spouse asked me, as the end credits rolled, "Now, doesn't this make you more grateful for America?" Only marginally. And at the rate we're going, under the sleazy leaders (and their underlings) we keep choosing, it's just a matter of time.

From Strand Releasing and running 107 minutes, the movie opens in New York City tomorrow, August 11, at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and Quad Cinema, and in the Los Angeles area on Friday, September 1, at Laemmle's Monica Film Center and Playhouse 7. Another 20 or so cities/theaters are in the offing. Click here and scroll down to see them all.

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