For thousands of years the worlds of religion and politics have often collided. There are very few societies where one isn’t influenced by the other to some degree, and certainly more so in particular countries.
For writer director Tarik Saleh’s latest, he explores this dynamic in his drama set in Egypt’s capital.
Leaving his father and two brothers behind in their small fishing village is Adam (Tawfeek Barhom). His hard work studying has paid off with a scholarship to the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, one of the most prestigious places of religious learning in the land.
It’s not long before Adam’s arrival is marked by tragedy, when the Grand Iman dies. It’s a position that comes with great authority and influence, which is why the State Security suddenly become interested in who succeeds him.
The favourite isn’t to their liking, so General Al Sakran (Mohammad Bakri) is tasked with recruiting someone on the inside to monitor the situation, and he chooses Adam.
Now instead of just studying, Adam finds himself embroiled in the middle of a highly tense scenario between his religious teachers and the State.
Although born in Sweden, Saleh was born to an Egyptian father, which no doubt contributed to this film’s development.
Its premise shows that older than time conflict between politics and religion, in a modern day setting, and throwing in a naive young man in the middle of it. Adam is already conflicted, being the studious fellow that he already is, but undergoes struggles with his faith and morals, as he’s coerced by the State to essentially spy on their behalf.
Saleh’s film, which he also wrote, is a fascinating look at a power struggle, with a young man sucked into a scenario he would prefer to have no part of. It builds tension slowly, as the deeper Adam finds himself, the more conflicted he becomes.
It is a curious world, completely bereft of a female point of view, but of course if it did have one, the film would probably be resolved within the first half hour.
Barhom is excellent as the eager to learn Adam, who quickly finds himself between the proverbial rock and hard place. The relationship that develops between him and Bakri’s General is the heartbeat of the film, especially with their discreet meet ups.
There is a case for Saleh possibly turning the screws a little tighter on the tension front, but overall there’s an even pacing throughout, making his trip to Cairo worthwhile.