• Golden Globe Awards

Cairo Conspiracy (Sweden)

Murder and the fight for religious and political power – what would it be like if “In the Name of the Rose” did not take place in a Christian but an Islamic setting? Re-reading Umberto Eco’s novel was writer/director Tarik Saleh’s original inspiration for. At first, the former graffiti artist and journalist had planned a novel, but his producing partner, Kristina Åberg, convinced him to make it a screenplay. Then John Le Carré, one of his biggest writing influences, died and Saleh was reminded of the veiled missions in Le Carré’s George Smiley books. He re-wrote the script with those twists in mind.
What ultimately transpired was a rare hybrid between world cinema and Hollywood spy thriller. Born in Stockholm to an Egyptian father and a Swedish mother, Saleh combined his cultural influences for Cairo Conspiracy. Previously titled Boy from Heaven, the film centers around Adam (Tawfeek Barhom), a poor fisherman’s son. The pious young man feels very honored when he is invited to attend Al-Azhar, the most influential university for Islamic studies. Soon after his arrival in Cairo, the university’s Grand Imam dies. Who becomes his successor will not only shape the spiritual direction of the school but also of the entire country. All of a sudden, Adam finds himself caught in a dangerous chess game between powerful political and religious groups who want to make sure their candidate will be selected.
Shooting the film in Egypt was out of the question. Saleh’s previous film The Nile Hilton Incident (Sundance Grand Jury Prize Winner World Cinema, 2017) about the corruption in the Egyptian police before the 2011 revolution, did not sit well with the powers that be. “I was banned,” Saleh said during an interview for this website at the Zurich Film Festival. “They said on TV that they would arrest me if I set foot in Egypt.” Instead, he filmed Al-Azhar, which acts as a character in its own right in the film, at the Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. “Istanbul has some of the greatest Islamic architecture in the world,” he explained. “The Turks colonized Egypt for so long, it affected the way Egypt looks…. I needed a lot of time there and the script had to go through a religious council. But I had the feeling that they were going to accept it because the script treats Islam respectfully.”
The film also reunited Saleh (who directed episodes of Westworld and Ray Donovan, as well as the black op thriller The Contractor starring Chris Pine) with Fares Fares (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Zero Dark Thirty). The popular Lebanese-Swedish actor, who plays a government agent and Adam’s handler, has been working with Saleh repeatedly since Metropia (2009).
Cairo Conspiracy won the Best Screenplay Award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (under the title Boy from Heaven) and is Sweden’s official entry for Best International Film at the Academy Awards.