Cairo Conspiracy | Picturehouse Recommends

Egyptian/Swedish filmmaker Tarik Saleh returns with another searing political thriller that promises to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

Nikki Baughan

31 Mar 23

Tarik Saleh

Release Date
10 April

Tawfeek Barhom, Fares Fares, Mehdi Dehbi


Running Time
120 mins

Five years after he won a slew of festival accolades including sundance's grand jury prize for blistering murder mystery The Nile Hilton Incident, Egyptian/Swedish filmmaker Tarik Saleh returns with another searing political thriller that promises to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Set once again in Egypt (although filmed in Turkey), the story features Adam (Tawfeek Barhom), the son of an overbearing traditional fisherman, who is desperate to forge his own path in life.

He is offered a place to study at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, an institution that happens to be the centre of power of Sunni Islam.

After the sudden death of the Grand Imam, Adam finds himself a reluctant pawn in the shadowy, behind-the-scenes manoeuvres to choose the next person for the influential seat. 

Cairo Conspiracy premiered in competition at Cannes 2022 – where it won Best Screenplay – and went on to a healthy festival career, playing at international events including Melbourne, Hamburg, Zurich, Busan, London, Rome and Thessaloniki.

It's no surprise the film has been a firm favourite with programmers and audiences; as shown by that Cannes screenplay win, writer/director Saleh has woven an enthralling, taut narrative that powerfully combines political intrigue with religious espionage. 

He's ably assisted in this endeavour by outstanding performances from his experienced cast, which includes prolific actor Fares Fares (returning from The Nile Hilton Incident and also seen in Child 44, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and HBO hit series Chernobyl) as Colonel Ibrahim, a state security officer who is working to ensure that the "right" candidate gets elected to the seat of Grand Imam.

Although Ibrahim will stop at nothing to follow orders, Fares doesn't play him as a simple villain; rather, he shades the character with a cynicism born from weary experience.

Alongside him is Tawfeek Barhom (seen in feature Mary Magdalene and Hulu series The Looming Tower) as the initially naive yet increasingly savvy Adam, who is tasked to be Colonel Ibrahim's eyes and ears inside the university, and forced to infiltrate a group of hard-line extremists – a precarious, life-threatening situation that he must navigate with intelligence and guile. 

As with The Nile Hilton Incident, Saleh – who also found time in 2022 to make Chris Pine-starring US military actioner The Contractor – similarly imbues Cairo Conspiracy with a visceral sense of place, with Turkey standing in admirably for Egypt, and Istanbul's impressive Süleymaniye Mosque doubling for Al-Azhar. (The filmmaker is currently unable to film in Egypt, having been banned from the country since 2015 for making work that questions the country's government practices.)

To this end, he's brought back his longstanding creative team, headed up by celebrated cinematographer Pierre Aïm (La Haine, Paris Je T'Aime), to capture the austere rigidity of Al-Azhar and give the audience a bird's-eye view of Saleh's imagined clandestine meetings of powerful men working to their own nefarious ends. 

Also returning is editor Theis Schmidt, whose careful cutting ensures the film maintains a measured but gripping sense of rhythm and intrigue, and production designer Roger Rosenberg (who worked on Joachim Trier's thriller Thelma and his Oscar-nominated follow-up The Worst Person In The World) who effectively recreates the venerable Cairo institution in which this tense, enthralling drama plays out in masterful style.   Nikki Baughan

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Cairo Conspiracy is in cinemas from 10 April  Book Now