J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Sundance ’17: The Nile Hilton Incident

It is now the Nile Ritz-Carlton, but management could still do without this kind of product placement—just like the New York Sofitel probably wasn’t particularly eager to see the Dominique Strauss-Kahn movie. Regardless, the location couldn’t be better: Nile views right on Tahrir Square. Repercussions from a murder committed behind the hotel’s closed doors will ultimately spill out into the 2011 Arab Spring protests in Tarik Saleh’s The Nile Hilton Incident, which screens during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Incident is “based” on the 2008 murder of Lebanese Suzanne Tamim, the winner of a Pan-Arab Pop Idol contest, like hundreds of Law & Order episodes were “ripped from the headlines.” The Ritz-Carlton would probably like to point out Tamim was actually murdered in Dubai, but a close ally of the Mubarak administration was indeed arrested for the crime. In this case, the late Lalena was a night club performer who maybe turned a few tricks on the side to survive. Rather inconveniently, one of her popular Tunisian colleagues starts making noise at the station, as if she could find justice there.

Col. Noredin will be the investigating officer, which should not inspire a heck of a lot of confidence, since we first meet him making the police department’s protection money pick-ups. Clearly, his commander (who also happens to be his uncle) expects Noredin to sweep it all under the rug. However, when he starts going through the motions of an investigation, he quickly links a wealthy business leader and parliament member to the crime. Evidently, a Sudanese maid saw it all, but she is understandably making herself scarce.

There are considerable merits to Incident, starting with its stylish look and the strikingly seedy back alley locations. However, the general narrative arc harbors few surprises. Believe it or not, it turns out privilege has its privileges. On the other hand, even though historians might object, the way Saleh conflates the Tamim/Lalena murder with the Tahrir Square protests is quite effective.

Fares Fares (from the Department Q trilogy) is all kinds of intense as the self-loathing Noredin. You can practically see the steam coming out of his nostrils. Slimane Dazi is also chillingly soulless as his quarry. Yet, the greatest attraction for many viewers will be the nocturnal tour of Cairo’s streets, bars, and opium dens.

You can hear echoes of Chinatown throughout the film, but it is worlds removed from Saleh’s best known film in America, Metropia, the Tribeca-distributed dystopian animated feature. Good but too predictable to be great, The Nile Hilton Incident screens tonight (1/21), tomorrow (1/22), Thursday (1/26), and Saturday (1/28) in Park City, as part of this year’s Sundance.

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