By Monica Delgado
This is a film about some events in Egypt, but it is not produced by that country. Made with capitals from Sweden, Finland and Denmark, Boy from Heaven, the fifth feature film by the Swedish filmmaker, of Egyptian descent, Tarik Saleh is a political thriller about a young son of a provincial fisherman who, thanks to a scholarship, enters the theological university of Al-Azhar in Cairo, where boarding students are trained to be mediators of Sunni Islam. After his admission and acclimatization to the new life, Adam is tangentially affected by the death of the Great Imam, who runs the institution, and with it he will be immersed in a network of conspirators for religious power, which is equal to political power in that country.
As in El Cairo Confidential (2017), one of his previous works -he also directed The Contractor (2022) with Chris Pine already in the Hollywood leagues- in Boy from heaven we are in the field of intrigue and political conspiracy, although this time inside mosques and chants of the Koran. This dissolution of the understanding of the political from the powers of the state, to place it within the factual power of Islam is what makes the initial premise of this film attractive, however, the way in which from the script the networks between the investigators or government advisers and the protagonist seem too naive, as if everything depended on the action of a new acolyte.
Shot in Turkey, Boy from Heaven is shown to be safer in the areas of masculine certainty, in Adam’s (Tawfeek Barhom) relationship with his bunkmates, in his night outings through the neighborhoods of Cairo, also centered on a complicity between men typical of an Islamic country where home spaces are reserved for women. However, the entire journey that the protagonist undertakes, which is both outward and inward, from his use as an informant to his time as a student (in a university where we hardly ever see him study), from stranger to member of a faction of power, it is shown from a classical staging without greater expressive complexity.
The most interesting thing about Boy from heaven is in the imagination of the interiority of Al-Azhar, as a space of knowledge and religious power, and that dismantles the understanding of Islam as a religion free from classical hierarchies, very typical of the Catholic Church by example. The insurmountable relationship of church and government. The impossibility of secularism.
Direction: Tarik Saleh
Direction and script: Tarik Saleh
Photography: Pierre Aim
Cast: Tawfeek Barhom, Fares Fares, Mehdi Dehbi, Mohammed Bakri, Makram Khoury, Sherwan Haji, Yunus Albayrak, Ayman Fathy, Amr Mosad.
Sweden, Finland, Denmark, 2022, 126 min.