Review – Cairo Conspiracy

Cairo Conspiracy is a powerful story both on the screen and behind. Despite being set in Cairo, Director Tarik Saleh hasn’t been allowed into Egypt since 2015. Three days before his previous film ‘The Nile Hilton Incident’, was due to start filming, Saleh was ordered to leave the country. Made worse by the fact that should he ever set foot in it again, he would be arrested.

Already there was intrigue to his follow up film, more so when it is set in the country he isn’t allowed to enter. What is more interesting is Cairo Conspiracy also known as Boy from Heaven won the best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival. This could have opened up a nomination to the Oscars but that was not to be despite holding a very handsome audience score of 83 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.  

The movie starts with Adam (Tawfeek Barhom) rowing his father around the sea as they pull in fishing nets. You can tell his father is old and the manual labour is tough on him. We learn early on that Adam’s mother has passed away and his father struggles to raise his three sons. 

As tough as Adam’s father seems, he also has a big heart and believes in his son’s journey after he has been offered a full grant to attend the University of Al-Azhar. With his fathers approval Adam starts his journey into a world he didn’t know existed.Within Adam’s first days at the university, The Grand Imam, head of the institution and highest authority in Sunni Islam, suddenly dies. In the search to appoint the replacement the Head of State Security had some demands of his own to align state and religion. But this means Officer Ibrahim needs to set in motion a plan to ensure the right person is elected.

His plan fails when his informant, Zizo, is murdered right as he was attempting to recruit Adam. Ibrahim himself has to mentor Adam to help him find his confidence, in turn fulfilling his spying around the University. Adam starts to become overconfident as he contemplates his future as the pawn in this political game when Ibrahim demands more of him. 

The thing that stands out when you watch Cairo Conspiracy is how visually clear and lifelike the image is. This in turn pulls you into the film as if you were there. It’s a combination of the anamorphic lenses used along with the high-density encoding camera which gives that high definition full colour experience. 

This plays into the stunning scenery used as part of Al-Azhar which was the Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul. The stunning patchwork-like columns and flooring filled with granite and marble make a grand backdrop. The main courtyard where a number of the scenes are shot has a sometimes bleak appearance. When Adam and Zizo are looking down as beautiful as it is, it also seems a little like a prison recreational area. 

The score felt like it was building to something the entire way. Delicate, but always there. But what you find is it fades away as the film progresses. There is also this clever consistency of prayers being mumbled throughout the film that offers somewhat of a musical backdrop.

Leading the cast is Tawfeek Barhom (Mary Magdalene, The Letter for the King, The Looming Tower) as Adam. Barhom’s journey from a quiet obedient fisherman’s son to a political informant who at one point is calling the shots is a believable and natural journey. There are moments where his shyness and genuine fear of what he has gotten himself into, are gripping to see. There is one scene where he is being taunted in a holding cell and the look of absolute fear on his face is palpable.

Cairo Conspiracy is a rich tapestry of deceit and scandal. Every corner you turn there is another element coming into play and it becomes a dash to the finish line bearing the question, will Adam come out of this alive at the end? From the visually stunning cinematography and visually authentic filled scenes to the stunning performance from Tawfeek Barhom, this film is one that will pull you in from the start. 

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