Intrigue, suspense, and the complex relationship between politics and religion are the focus of Tarik Saleh’s Boy From Heaven, also known as Cairo Conspiracy. Set in Cairo’s renown Al-Azhar Mosque and university, a revered center of Islam, the sudden death of the Grand Imam is the catalyst for Machiavellian manipulations behind the scenes, as State Security – the strong and silent arm of the president – is determined to influence the choice of his successor. Caught up in this series of events is Adam, the son of a fisherman who is a scholarship student at the university. Tawfeek Barhom is mesmerizing as Adam, his eloquent gaze revealing the character’s inner turmoil and insights, his outstanding performance transforms the film into a moving coming-of-age narrative, as well as a thriller.
Amidst the grueling routine of life with a strict father who delivers corporal punishment, Adam’s letter of acceptance to Al-Azhar is a dream come true. Awed by his new surroundings, as he enters the library his eyes light up with happiness. As the new boy, he docilely accepts the bottom bunk imposed on him by his more confident bunkmate Raeed (Ahmed Lassaoui). Yet that will be the least of Adam’s worries. State Security makes a habit of maintaining an informant at the university, and Adam, with his combination of naivete and intelligence has been targeted as the next inside man. Fares Fares portrays Colonel Ibrahim, Adam’s handler, his slightly rumpled look with long gray locks and glasses making him look deceptively harmless. As Colonel Ibrahim presents Adam with promises and threats, the young student soon realizes that he has no alternative but to do the Colonel’s bidding. Drawn into a dangerous game of concealment and dissemblance, Adam must rely on his intelligence to survive.
The desire for power and control motivates the players in this game. Since whoever is chosen as Grand Imam will have considerable influence, the government, as represented here by General Al Sakran (Mohammad Bakri) wants their own candidate to be chosen. The current favorite is not however the government’s man, it is rather Sheikh Negm (Makram Khoury), known as the Blind Sheikh. Khoury is a powerful presence in a small, yet critical role, endowing the character of the Sheikh with dignity and wisdom. Although the film’s emphasis is on conspiracies and intrigue rather than an exploration of Islam, there is a sense of the different perspectives and approaches within the religion, as well as the beauty of the Mosque (it was filmed at the Süleymanye Mosque in Istanbul). Amid the deception and sinister machinations, there is an interlude of grace, as a competition in reciting the Koran is held at the university. As Adam’s otherwise somewhat obnoxious bunkmate recites by heart, his eyes are closed, the words come from his heart, and in that moment he is radiant.
Inspired by Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Boy from Heaven was awarded Best Screenplay at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.
Boy From Heaven
Written and directed by Tarik Saleh; Cinematography: Pierre Aïm; Editor: Theis Schmidt; Music: Krister Linder; Cast: Tawfeek Barhom, Fares Fares, Mohammad Bakri, Makram J. Khoury, Mehdi Dehbi, Moe Ayoub, Sherwan Hagi, Ahmed Lassaoui, Jalal Altawil, Ramzi Choukair