At the final press conference at this year's 75th Cannes Film Festival — after a long haul of films, interviews, and caffeine overdoses — a set of dedicated journalists gathered for one final event inside the glorious Palais des Festivals. The conference, a roundup and brief photo-call involving each of the award winners, would settle the mood for the festival's final daunting hours. The conference was extended past midnight, surpassing the initially expected close. Regardless, each of the winners were able to fluently speak about their passion for cinema; as journalists and photographers consumed the space with questions and watermarked images. One of the first winners to speak at the conference was Tarik Saleh, an Egyptian director who garnered the coveted Best Screenplay prize. He spoke passionately about Boy From Heaven and shared an essential piece of advice for all screenwriters, where Saleh stated:
The biggest censorship is in your head. When I started writing this story, there was a censorship in my head. You know when Kore-eda tells the story of Shoplifters (2018)? It's not the story that Japan wants to project out to the world. But he silenced the censorship in his head, and he tells us the story. I'm eternally thankful for that film.
With Boy From Heaven, Saleh tackles the taboo with a refreshing genre twist. The film is a riveting espionage procedural; detailing a tale of innocence versus state with great versatility and narrative stake. Prevalently set on the streets of Cairo, Saleh introduces the roles and hierarchies of the Al-Azhar University with bare exposition. As a director banned from his home country, Saleh refuses to dilute his political statements. Through the eyes of Adam — a susceptible young fisherman studying at the Al-Azhar — we witness his turbulent incidental involvement with Egypt's state authority. We see the rabbit-hole effect of Adam's perceptions; a journey through the underbelly of Egypt's commonwealth told with vividly realised locations.
Boy From Heaven swerves through side plots involving the indoctrination of religious extremism, state-mandated assassinations, and election-tampering; a strangely reminiscent cautionary tale. As a result, the film is universally translatable within any given political context. Saleh's screenplay is also direct and punctual; a refreshing recount on the importance of accountability and the dangers of an authoritarian state. The turning role of the film's rogue security agent Ibrahim (as brilliantly portrayed by the great Fares Fares), adds dimension to the film's moral complexity. Ibrahim's compliance, humanity, and personal stake effectively complicates the cluster of Saleh's own personal grievances against the Egyptian state; riddling the film with compelling dialogue-heavy sequences vicariously through Ibrahim's role as a class traitor.
Whilst the film's final climactic high-note is conveniently contrived, Boy From Heaven concludes with an affecting moment of melancholy. Saleh's intricate world-building and social commentary overcomes the head-scratching resolution, as we witness a defiant call-to-arms against the bureaucracy of state. Boy From Heaven is urgent, topical, and accessible; a confident piece of filmmaking which transcends with a familiar story of student versus state. Or in other terms, a cinematic ode to ridding the censorship in one's head.