Film Review: CAIRO TIME

By at November 9, 2010 | 1:07 pm | Print

4.5 / 5 stars

Cairo Time -- Australia Movie PosterThe right use of an exotic location can create magic onscreen, especially when a filmmaker really knows how to take advantage of the surroundings. Writer-director Ruba Nadda has that kind of beautiful command of her Egyptian elements in Cairo Time, but she also has something else: Patricia Clarkson, the veteran actress who embodies her Middle Eastern environment for the film’s precious, fleeting 89 minutes. Clarkson lives and breathes the Cairo experience from an American woman’s eyes, in a performance that gracefully transcends story and setting. Clarkson, with lithe looks and delicate acting, captures the wonder of her locale like few other actresses ever have.

It helps that Nadda gives Clarkson an inviting structure in which to work. The actress is Juliette Grant, a married mom with an empty nest, planning an Egyptian rendezvous with her husband Mark, a UN official working in a troubled area. When he’s unable to get away, Juliette is left to wander the city, discover the culture, and find friendship with Tareq (Alexander Siddig), Mark’s colleague and the dictionary definition of tall, dark and handsome.

As Juliette begins to “get” Egypt, she grows increasingly interested in Tareq and begins to imagine a life quite unlike the one she’s lived for so long. As the title of the film suggests, Juliette is living in another physical “time,” one of those hazy by-products of world travel that’s almost impossible to describe or explain. It’s a feeling that Nadda develops with quiet care and complete believability, not too far away from Sofia Coppola’s approach in Lost In Translation.

Patricia Clarkson in Cairo TimeBut Clarkson’s supreme calm — even when upset or distressed — and Nadda’s artistic and cultural sense make Cairo Time something more. Juliette’s travelogue has a dreamy quality, brought to a brilliant point when a glowing, silhouetted Juliette confidently moves through the Cairo backstreets, a carefree bystander to a world that doesn’t really have a place for her. Clarkson’s languid movements and peacefully resigned visage capture everything that an experience such as hers could mean. If you’ve ever had that “out of sight, out of mind” feeling on vacation, you’ll connect — and envy — this beautiful sequence immediately.

While Cairo Time is promoted as the story of an unexpected love affair, the connection between Juliette and Tareq is more about larger issues than temporary desires. Their companionship highlights a culture collision and the world of opportunities not taken, and it really exists to develop our view of Juliette. Ultimately, Cairo Time is a character study focused on this middle-age American woman and her fascinating situation; Clarkson seems keenly aware of this while imparting a blissful ‘ride the wave’ attitude.

Adding to the film’s attraction is the slight lack of convention in telling Juliette and Tareq’s story. I had expected a moment of torrid intimacy, followed by reflective conversation and introspective thought. We’ve seen it before, yet, it doesn’t happen here. Cairo Time has something more unique in mind, a plotline and dialogue that’s true to its characters, without the standard cinematic narrative tricks. When the couple attends a local wedding (traveling by train of course) the film and its participants become even more romantic and inviting, as Juliette’s mind wanders toward a potentially iffy future.

Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig in Cairo Time

Ruba Nadda said she aimed to impart Egypt’s magic with Cairo Time (in just 25 shooting days) and she’s accomplished that — with story, location, photography, and, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, with the onscreen skill and beauty of Patricia Clarkson. The movie world can ignore an actress when she hits 50, but Clarkson’s performance proudly states that would be a horrible mistake.

Cairo Time on Blu-ray
Cairo Time on DVD

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