Patricia Clarkson is as graceful as any actress who appears on the screen and makes every performance seem effortless.
Though Cairo Time, written and directed by Ruba Nadda, is a beautiful and contemplative film which captures the breathtaking scenery of Egypt, it is also terribly similar to the viewpoint of Scarlett Johansson’s character in Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film Lost in Translation. Both films examine how the female characters observe and interact with the foreign city in which they find themselves. Coppola’s film is far superior, however, because of her natural ear for dialogue and the role Bill Murray plays, which brings much needed balance to an otherwise insufficient story.
Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) is an American magazine editor who arrives in Cairo to meet her husband, Mark (Tom McCamus), for a short vacation. Mark works for the U.N. and has been called away so he sends his close friend and former coworker Tareq (Alexander Siddig) to meet Juliette at the airport and escort her to her hotel. Tareq is a very kind and handsome man whose intelligence and sophistication feels out of place in a city like Cairo.
At first, Juliette understands that Mark has a demanding job but begins to worry when reports that relations in Gaza, to which Mark has traveled, have gotten much worse. To fill her time, Juliette tours the city and takes in the exotic culture and history it has to offer. She and Tareq meet occasionally for coffee or a meal; the two have a natural comfort together that Juliette may or may not have with her husband.
In her role, Clarkson is wonderful, as always. She is as graceful as any actress who appears on the screen and makes every performance seem effortless. Cairo Time is no exception and she is delightful to watch. The film has very little dialogue (another similarity to Lost in Translation), so Clarkson must communicate her feelings, emotions and motivation through her body language and facial expressions. Few actors are able to keep an audience’s interest while, ostensibly, doing nothing on screen, but Clarkson is one of those few.
Siddig is also wonderful as the very conflicted and mysterious de facto tour guide. Tareq has many demons from his past of which he prefers not to speak, and though he knows how the world is supposed to work, he also knows that bending the rules is necessary at times. Siddig towers over Clarkson throughout the film, with his scarecrow-like physique warding off any other potential male companions.
The relationship between Juliette and Tareq is fascinating to watch but is does feel like well-worn ground. The two should not be together, are from two different worlds and could be in trouble if anyone finds out about their budding relationship. Nadda even went so far as to name Clarkson’s character Juliette, which is rather brave considering how similar the story is to Shakespeare’s play.
There is nothing “wrong,” per se, about Cairo Time, as it is a decent film with fine performances and stunning scenery. However, there is also nothing original or unique about the film, leaving one to wonder if it was really necessary at all. | Matthew F. Newlin