A Boy From Heaven: Tariq Saleh’s Thriller Set in Egypt’s Al-Azhar Arts & Culture News

Cannes, France – Swedish-Egyptian director Tarik Saleh’s new film “The Boy from Heaven” premieres in competition at the International Film Festival Cannes Film Festival This week, his work was called Daring and Brave.

“I know Egyptians and Saudis will tell the truth. [They] Go to jail, be tortured, come out and tell the truth. These are brave people,” he told Al Jazeera.

“I have a Swedish passport. I live in Europe. I made movies [that is set in Cairo] In Istanbul,” he said.

Still, “The Boy From Heaven” will anger people with its portrayal of corruption, hypocrisy, and power struggles within Egypt’s religious institutions and state.

The film is a thriller about Adam (played by Tawfeek Barhom), a young man from a fishing community in northern Egypt who receives a grant to study Islamic thought at Cairo’s prestigious Al-Azhar University, only to end up with Involved in a conspiracy to elect the next president. Great Imam. This is a story of spies and scandals, whistleblowers and raiders, intrigues and killings.

Film critic Peter Bradshaw praised the film for its “intersection between conspiracy thriller and more general human drama”.

“The Boy From Heaven reminds me of the British writer John Le Carre, who of course wrote about spying and the human cost of the job,” he told Al Jazeera. “[Saleh] And boldly challenge corruption in the church and the state,” Bradshaw said.

Saleh’s last film, The Hilton Nine, won the World Jury Prize at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival: Dramatic, but was banned in Egypt for its portrayal of police corruption in the country.

Saleh sees his job as making films without considering the potential consequences.

“I believe that as an artist you have to tell the truth; the emotional truth, because there is no objective truth. If you are concrete and you try to be honest, not speculate, then you have the opportunity to actually say something [of significance] Through the cinema,” he said.

Tarik Saleh at the 75th Cannes Film Festival [Eric Gaillard/Reuters]

The setting of the film is one of the most famous educational institutions for Sunni Muslims, which makes it quite unusual.

“How many people knew about Al-Azhar and the Grand Imam before watching this movie?” Saleh asked.

The Boys from Heaven attempt to present a holistic view of the religious world, warts and everything – factionalism in the al-Azhar faith, divisions between liberals and conservatives – but it’s not an attack on the Islamic faith itself .

Saleh believes that the most controversial aspect will be its portrayal of national security interference in religious institutions and abuses of power — both individual and institutional.

“Power is a double-edged sword. It can easily cut your own hands,” asserts Adam, the film’s protagonist.

Saleh believes it is his responsibility to tell these stories.

“The Egyptians living in Egypt cannot tell this story. It is impossible. Egypt is a military dictatorship. “

“I’m another person I don’t like being”

Raised in Stockholm by a Swedish mother and an Egyptian father, Saleh, 50, describes himself as an “everyday Muslim”.

“I don’t fast as much, I don’t pray as much, I drink alcohol every now and then. I know you need to know five verses to pray, but I don’t recite the whole Qur’an like my grandfather and grandmother did, “He says.

By the way, his grandfather attended Al-Azhar University – which sparked Saleh’s curiosity and desire to make a film about the university.

Saleh worked closely with an imam when he wrote the screenplay because he wanted the script to be theologically correct, and he noted the Islamophobia pervasive in popular culture. “We had incredible discussions. I loved asking him all the forbidden questions and he had these wonderful explanations,” he said.

Saleh is keen to stress that the boy from heaven is fictional. The only real person in the film is President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, but even he only appears as a picture on the wall. Al-Azhar’s true Grand Imam, Sheikh Ahmed Mohammad Tayeb, is what Saleh described at a news conference as “in a region full of deranged voices and arrogant leaders, he It is the sophisticated voice of reason.”

Al-Azhar itself is a modern educational institution that also teaches subjects such as medicine and computer science, and has female students.

“What I do is combine history with things today to create a parallel reality,” he said.

Saleh believes that humans need to keep asking themselves the question that makes up the final line of his film: “What did you learn?” It’s that line that drives Barhom into the lead role.

“It’s a trip. It’s about growing up in these places, and it might take a little bit of your youth away, but you’ll be the best version of yourself and deal with whatever comes your way,” Bahom told a news conference. said.

boy from heaven
The film’s final line – “What did you learn?” – prompted Barhom to take the lead [Still from Boy from Heaven/Atmo]

Ultimately, Saleh sees the film as having universal resonance because it’s about people struggling with the conflict between what they believe in and what they have to do.

He says the conflict applies to his own work, describing himself as a reluctant director because others can’t make films, because he doesn’t trust the work of other directors, and for more prosaic reasons.

“I’m a father of two. I have to put food on the table. I’m paid well as a director because people think I’m good at it,” he said with a laugh.

He said he found being on set was a tortuous process. He enjoys being with the cast and crew, but hates directing them.

“I’m another person I don’t like being,” he said. “I had to be like a general who sacrificed his people and was very harsh. It was cruel. I felt like I was someone who would just send people to death,” he said.

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