Cairo Time Directed by: Ruba Nadda Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Alexander Siddig Running Time: 1 hr 30 mins Rating: PG Release Date: August 6, 2010
PLOT: While waiting for her U.N-employed husband to arrive, a woman (Clarkson) soaks up the culture of Cairo, Egypt and becomes very close with a courteous Egyptian friend named Tariq (Siddig).
WHO'S IT FOR? This is the type of movie with the right amount of romance and culture that could make for a refreshingly intellectual date night at the art house. So, grab your partner and enjoy a trip to Cairo that is much cheaper than any plane ride will ever be.
EXPECTATIONS: Patricia Clarkson has a pretty good track record when it comes to picking movies. Though I did not know anything about Cairo Time before it started to play, I figured that if she was on board for this project, then I probably would be too.
Patricia Clarkson as Juliette Grant: This character may have her brains about western culture, but she is nicely constructed to point out that such smarts don’t exactly indicate full knowledge of how other parts of the world operate. Clarkson’s delicate character, which she carries with a soft spoken voice and an observant nature, is still unaware of what its really like to live in other areas. The exposure of this “ignorance” can bring out a prissy nature that is all the more realistic of how tourists like Juliette would act. A beautiful presence, Clarkson owns this movie about a woman in exotic circumstances much like Tilda Swinton did in her own I Am Love ... but this woman is even more lovely. Score: 7
Alexander Siddig as Tariq Khalifa: As the story takes us through the different areas of Cairo, Tariq is our chivalrous tour guide who is constantly marked by his patient ways. He is often compared to other males of a younger age in the streets, who are comparatively more aggressive (and therefore rude) with Clarkson, which may or may not be an exaggeration. His formal ways help create excellent tension between himself and Juliette – it is not his morals that are possibly keeping him from doing any romantic advancing, but also his manners. Score: 7
TALKING: As beautiful as Cairo may be, an audience apparently can’t deal with just two people walking around the area – they must discuss something. In some form or another, the two leads discuss different ideals of their country, and often with the point that both of them are misguided on the culture of the other. This eventually becomes redundant, something that effects the enjoyment of the time spent wandering around Cairo. When the two are caught up in bits of romantic tension, the dialogue is slender and positively real. If body language is a form of talking, then anatomical dialogue is marvelous on its own level with Cairo Time. Score: 7
SIGHTS: Throughout the entire history of English-language film, there are likely not many of examples of Cairo being captured to this romantic extent. Sharing screentime with the two main leads, Cairo is its own character, and director Nadda has no problem in giving the city it’s own time to speak for itself. A lot of the city, however compact the streets may be, is shown with expansive wide shots that are so deep into the landscape you can always see natives in the background watching the film that is being shot. In other movies, this would be distracting (it is even just once in Annie Hall, for example). But with Cairo Time, it further enforces the film’s verite style. Score: 8
SOUNDS: To audibly illustrate the busy nature of Cairo, the film constantly has the sounds of city life buzzing about, even when the characters are in the solitude of hotel rooms or cafes. Thankfully, the mixing prevents this from being obtrusive to hearing any bit of dialogue. As for the non-natural sounds of Cairo, this film has a beautiful score that mixes regional music with a couple of delicate piano waltzes. Score: 7
BEST SCENE: The chemistry between the two is most potent when they are standing in her hotel room, standing on opposite sides of an unblinking wide shot.
ENDING: "Let's go."
REWATCHABILITY: It would be a great joy to re-watch this movie, if even just to re-view the aesthetics of Cairo. The chemistry between Clarkson and Siddig would hold up a second time, as I would imagine the tension would immediately fall back into place, along with the mystery that lies inside the heart of each character.
Cairo Time is a delightful postcard of a film that appeals to all five senses. Delicately, it mixes in the wondrous sights of the city and a puissant chemistry to create a sixth sense, one that’s shown to be universally human, regardless of formalities – love. Without ever stepping too far into over-romantic boundaries, Cairo Time tells the story of a delicate tension that grows between two people in one special moment. Hollywood has tried to make this movie before, (like Leap Year, as a colleague noted) but rarely has natural control over such events.
Arguably, much like Tariq, the film’s mission in making sure the audience is comfortable is too gentle. Long bits of the story exist without any plot point, and while the two natural characters walk through the winding, closely put together streets of Cairo, they walk nowhere in the story but in a straight line. There are literally scenes where characters walk off screen, and the sights and sounds are meant to take over.
Beautiful and wide is the love that director Ruba Nadda gives Cairo. But fleeting is the amount of focus she gives to the two human beings exploring its gorgeousness, while standing on the lines of adultery. As the saying goes, the city is truly her mistress.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10