August 26, 2010


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Cairo Time (PG)
A woman alone in Cairo strikes up a surprising friendship with her husband’s former colleague in Cairo Time, a pretty, sweet little romance.

Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) arrives in Cairo eager to vacation with her husband, Mark (Tom McCamus). They plan to see the sites, including the pyramids of course, together and enjoy the rare break from his work as a UN official. But when she gets to Cario she is met by Tareq (Alexander Siddig), an Egyptian recently retired from the UN who is a friend of Juliette’s husband. Mark is stuck in Gaza for another day or two, he tells her, and helps her find her hotel and get settled. As the day or two turns into longer, Juliette finds herself frustrated. Her attempts to go out and explore Cairo become studies in awkwardness as she is followed by groups of men and never quite sure if she’s wandering into a place where, culturally, she shouldn’t be. So Tareq shows her around and slowly the two develop a friendship, one based on a kind of courtly politeness mixed with the familiarity of being pushed together by circumstance. It isn’t merely a “friendship,” however — there is a spark between Juliette and Tareq that neither seems to want to extinguish.

Two factors make talking about this movie a bit difficult: (1) There isn’t a whole lot to it. It is like the lightest linen, the sheerest tulle. It’s pretty and fragile and all about hints and suggestions rather than bold definitive action. And then (2) With so few facts to discuss, I’ve probably already walked you through some two-thirds of the movie. To talk about Cairo Time at all is to give away spoilers.

The movie is less about story, which you could easily explain in its entirety in one not-too-long sentence, and more about mood. This movie happens in the kind of dreamy twilight that vacations, particularly ones to completely unfamiliar places, all seem to take place in. You can never quite tell what time of day it is. Juliette seems to float through her days and nights, talking to her husband at 3 a.m. and looking drowsy in the afternoon. This adds to the dreamlike quality of her time with Tareq — as if everything about their friendship is in a world apart.

This floaty ephemeral quality of the movie is both a source of charm — how lovely Clarkson and Siddig look wandering through Cairo — and a weakness. The movie doesn’t have anything specific to say about Cairo or culture or this question of “the Middle East” (which is batted about by the characters a bit and then swatted away). And yet it seems like it wants to, or like it realizes that it should. Or something. In fact, it feels like perhaps somebody said “we’ll put Something here in this spot later” and then decided that lovely people looking charming and graceful was good enough. Not unlike a vacation itself, Cairo Time is a pleasure to experience but evaporates quickly after it’s done. B-

Not rated. Written and directed by Ruba Nadda, Cairo Time is an hour and 29 minutes long and is distributed by IFC Films. It is available via Comcast OnDemand.