Adam comes from a small fishing village. When he is accepted to the prestigious Al-Azhar University for Islamic sciences in Egypt’s capital, he receives the nickname “sardine”. He is a shy student, afraid to assert himself among his peers, but he is observant and sharp. Not long after his arrival, the school’s grand imam passes away. The search to find a successor sets a web of intrigue into motion, and Adam finds himself caught in it as he witnesses the murder of a fellow student.
The layers with which Palestinian actor Tawfeek Barhom magnificently portrays Adam sneak up on the viewer almost unexpectedly; his body language speaks louder than anything his character might say. Even as Adam is forced to swiftly adapt to different circumstances, the meek and inconspicuous demeanour stays, but it is turned into an asset when needed.
Fares Fares, who has appeared in most of the director’s previous work, co-stars in Cairo Conspiracy as Ibrahim, a state security officer who tries to get Adam to become their spy.
Written and directed by Tarik Saleh, the predominantly Swedish production is a white-knuckle thriller about the power struggle between religious and political forces. Instead of the Catholic Church that previously reigned in this particular niche, be it through adaptations of Dan Brown’s novels or Jean-Christophe Grangé’s, this time it is the Muslim world in the spotlight.
Despite winning the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, the filmmaker’s previous feature The Nile Hilton Incident did not see distribution in the country it was set in because Egyptian authorities didn’t like the way they were portrayed. Cairo Conspiracy may suffer a similar fate. But hopefully, any attempt to silence it will unleash the very discussion this film aims for.
Cairo Conspiracy is released in UK cinemas on 14th April 2023.
Watch the trailer for Cairo Conspiracy here: