It is still a Monday but there are no break days for us yet! With that, I finished watching the new Arabic film Cairo Conspiracy(also titled Boy From Heaven) which is now streaming on Amazon Prime. I did realise that I haven’t given any foreign films a go lately and so I decided to handpick Cairo Conspiracy which was Sweden’s official entry to the Academy Awards this year. While the film did not go beyond the top 15 stage(just like Joyland and Chhello Show), the film had garnered immense appreciation at the world stage by winning the best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival last year.
Before watching the film, I did a little digging only to find out that the director has barred from making films in Egypt which is why he had to shoot this particular film in Turkey. This sentiment did hold my attention prompting me to believe that Cairo Conspiracy may well be a film intended against the establishment. Previously, I had observed a trend in Iranian filmmakers who did utilize films as a tool for protests which was a fascinating thought in itself. If only countries would allow them to make films and in a way address the issues which might be prevalent in their society, the world would be a better place. So then does Cairo Conspiracy manage to stir a similar sentiment, lets find out.
Story & Screenplay
Cairo Conspiracy follows the story of a fisherman’s son who is sent to Al-Azhar university(known as the epicenter of religious powers) to study. This until he is embroiled in a cross fire between the state and university. The story here is poignant and far too unassuming for a thriller. Make no mistake, this can be termed as a spy drama and it should be addressed in the same manner as well. And if you are willing to do that, you shall realise what a riveting story this actually is, challenging the religious beliefs along with uncovering the wrongdoings of the state and the university. The screenplay standing at just about two hours, does seem the right length wherein the drama doesn’t overstay its welcome.
The drama does open with a brief level of world building wherein you are introduced to the protagonist and the humble background to which he belongs. The innocence of not be aware of the big bad world outside his cacoon coupled with his obedience does formulate the drama at the very beginning. Soon having being sent to the capital to study religion and having to adjust to the hustle of a new city does form the basis of the drama ahead. Yet, the writers do not focus on this aspect and instead introduce the conflict right away of the passing away of the Grand Imam wherein the university has to appoint a new religious leader. The only catch with respect to the state being that they want a candidate who reflects the same ideologies as the state.
The drama does unfold at a leisurely pace but it is filled with tension for most parts. I found myself fully invested in the drama wherein the stakes were raised very early following the death of a character. The little cat and mouse game does construct a riveting drama with the dynamics of both the parties often seen clashing. And it is the protagonist who is used as a pawn and thus caught in a cross-fire with respect to his loyalties.
It is often very difficult to construct a religious thriller simply because the focus always lies as to how well can you balance it. And that is done perfectly here by the writers who do not try to cross the line at any point. Likewise with respect to the political angle which is entirely played out in the second layer as a subtext. So although the drama is leisurely paced, you need to understand the dynamics of the characters and their motives to completely comprehend the drama. At times, it does get a little overwhelming in keeping pace with it but the flavours are wholesome and quite rewarding.
The proceedings are engaging and engrossing with an interesting set of twists and turns. The clash of the ideologies is gently converted into a tussle of power that does add a nice little layer to the drama. The gears are switched in the final 30 minutes as I found myself extremely curious on how things would end. The ending here was quite tricky given that it had its entire foundation built around religion and its beliefs. But it was so subtly executed that the final act made it linger around long after it had ended. Overall, the screenplay is brilliant and treads a fine line between politics and religion really well.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are conversational but they keep a tab on the ever growing tension in the drama. The BGM mostly does rely on natural sounds and that does contribute to the rawness of the drama, making it feel organic and real. The cinematography is pretty good despite the drama giving a feel of a low budget thriller. Director Tarik Saleh does a fabulous job in constructing a riveting tale centered around politics and religion. The parallels can be drawn to any corner of the world and that is what makes this drama important to be watched too.
The performances are excellent by the ensemble cast. Mehndi Dehbi as Zizo has his moments to shine. Younes Medhat as Sobhy is first rate. Makram J. Khoury as Sheikh Negm is outstanding particularly in the final act. Fares Fares as Ibrahim had a very interesting look to his character and he is brilliant in every sense of the word. The minor switch in his character at the end does make him a little more human. Tawfeek Barhom as Adam has an outstanding character arc with different emotions to play with. And he is astonishingly brilliant given how your sentiments towards the character keep changing!
Cairo Conspiracy is a riveting thriller centered around politics and religion that comes with my highest recommendation. Available on Amazon Prime and Highly Recommended!