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  • Colin Fraser


FOUR AND A HALF STARS The Grand Imam has died, and the State wants their man to replace him.


Starring Tawfeek Barhom, Fares Fares

Don’t be fooled by the deceptively tranquil aesthetic of this movie, for CAIRO CONSPIRACY is a turbo-charged thriller to rival the most draw-dropping episodes of Succession or its ilk. The wage of hypocrisy and the price of deception pin this story of political intervention at Sunni Islam’s most venerated institutions, the Al-Azhar University. The Grand Imam has suddenly died and the Egyptian state wants their man, not the cleric’s choice, to succeed him.

Written and directed by exiled filmmaker Tarik Saleh this riveting drama tackles some thorny issues with an immaculate sense of growing dread. Adam (Tawfeek Barhom) is a fisherman’s son who is selected to study at the prestigious university. A friendly student takes him under his wing and helps Adam navigate the school’s expectations. But life turns on an ersh in Cairo and when the young man is suddenly murdered and his involvement with the Egyptian military exposed, Adam is coerced into being the State’s new pawn. Now caught in political crosshairs, can he please his political handler while pleasing his religious teachers, his father, his conscience and his God?

The answer to all those questions lands in a superb finalé as Saleh, with methodical precision drives his story toward an electric ending. But CAIRO CONSPIRACY is not all bewitching narrative. At its heart are two highly engaging performances - Barhom as the emergent Adam and the always excellent Fares Fares as his compromised handler. They’re two halves of a moral dilemma given to represent the good and bad, the conservative and progressive, the religious and secular, the faithful and faithless, the right and wrong. Quite which one is which, and when, well, therein the film's magnetic power.

Saleh resists the urge to create an overheated potboiler, instead producing an acutely layered work distinguished by a calm exterior that denies the hell always trying to break through. It speaks loudly, and more clearly, about the central theme of corruption he’s prosecuting than any shoot-em-up could ever achieve. Prepare to have your breath taken away.



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