Politics, military and religion combine to create a claustrophobic and deadly cocktail in "The Boy from Paradise," an unusual, well-made paranoia thriller set at Cairo's prestigious Al-Azhar University, the world's leading center of Sunni Islamic learning.
The film, which won the Best Screenplay award at last year's Cannes Film Festival, was written and directed by Swedish-Egyptian Tarek Saleh ("The Nile Hilton Incident"), inspired by Umberto Eco's classic book "The Name of the Rose," about the murderous political intrigues and machinations of a 14th-century Benedictine monastery. Only here the convoluted plot takes place today, in President el-Sisi's Egypt.
The plot is led by Adam (Arab-Israeli actor Tawfiq Barhoum), from a poor fishing family from a small Egyptian village, who wins a scholarship to study at Al Azhar. Not long after his arrival, the imam of the university dies, and an introvert finds himself recruited into the ranks of the secret police by Colonel Ibrahim (Fares Fares).
Tareq Saleh, Photo: Kim Svensson
It turns out that the government authorities are very interested in their candidate being elected imam, and the naïve and helpless Adam is tasked with acting as a mole who infiltrates various groups at the university in order to make it happen (one of the sheikhs with whom Adam contacts is played by Makram Khoury, who is excellent as always).
The suspense mechanism of "The Boy from Paradise" is familiar from countless previous films, but the unusual setting provides a glimpse into a hidden and unfamiliar world, giving the story a fresh twist. Adam's character, which grows, develops and gets smarter as the story gets more complicated, remains sympathetic throughout, thanks in no small part to Barhoum's gentle and restrained performance), and the relationship he develops with his manipulative handler creates a series of successful and stressful scenes that echo the espionage world of John le Carré and his ilk.
Saleh has said in interviews that the story of "The Boy from Paradise" is made up. But he spares no criticism from the Egyptian establishment (the film was shot in Istanbul and was Sweden's representative to the Oscars), and the result is a scathing indictment that uses the rules of the genre to describe the rotten complexity of political reality and to deliver well-deliberate blows – both against the corrupt regime and the hypocritical religious establishment. In short, an interesting movie.
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