Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Cairo Time

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Cairo Time shouldn't be dismissed as a chick flick. Or if it is, it's a good one.

The storyline is slight enough. Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) arrives in Cairo expecting to be met by her husband Mark, who is some kind of official with an aid agency, but he has been called to Gaza and delayed getting back to Cairo. Instead, Juliette is met by Tariq (Alexander Siddiq), a former colleague and friend of her husband. As she waits in her hotel for Mark to return, time weighs heavily. Juliette and Tariq connect again; they pass the time in various exotic locations in the city and surroundings; an is-it-or-isn't-it? romance develops between them.

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Above all, Cairo Time is Clarkson's film. I've admired her in everything I've seen her in, starting with the TV series Murder One in the mid-'90s. Her Botticelli-angel face and clarinet-toned voice are memorable, but she is a humdinger of an actress as well, and her abilities are much on view here.

She can play "on the lines" when the script gives her anything special to work with, not that often in Cairo Time, but also has the rarer capacity to reveal her character between the lines. You can observe how she works in the very first scene, at the Cairo airport. She instantly (almost) conceals her surprise when Tariq, rather than Mark, shows up; she is gracious to Tariq, and you sense that it's not only out of politeness — and certainly not attraction yet — but because of her innate decency; and without being obvious, she also lets you know she's groggy and jet lagged from the flight.

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Her performance in this film reaches its height in an almost wordless scene toward the end. I won't describe it since it might be a spoiler. You'll know which I'm talking about.

Siddiq's character isn't particularly well developed; we meet his former lover, Yasmeen, and pick up a few details along the way, although his inner life remains something of a mystery. But Siddiq, too, is a good actor and invests the part with enough magnetism that Juliette's attraction to him is believable.

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There's an interesting scene where Juliette wanders into a mosque (would this actually be allowed?), but other than Tariq identifying himself as a Muslim, references to Islam remain subdued. That seems like a reasonable artistic choice. To delve into the social, political, and religious implications raised would be to turn Cairo Time into a different kind of movie.

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Director Ruba Nadda is a new name to me. Nothing about her work here is outstanding — unless it was partly responsible for the excellence of the leads — but she doesn't make any major goofs, either.

The city, of course, plays its own major role, although it strikes me as rather unreal and glamourized. (I've never been to Cairo, but I know people who have.) The swank old palace of a hotel Juliette inhabits is colorful, though I suspect typical only of very-high-end rich-foreigner Cairo. A romantic scene at the Pyramids of the couple, who have the place almost to themselves, seems absurd: tell me a time from sun-up to sundown when there aren't 20 coaches parked on site and tourist group armies.


Atmospheric cinematography, in a 2.35-to-1 (widescreen) aspect ratio.

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10 comments:

latté island said...

I've never even heard of this movie, but this mini-review has set off my right-wing Zionist paranoia. If hubby is an aid worker in the Middle East, he is almost certainly one of those not so genteel anti-semites that run those groups. My instant review of this movie, which I admit I've never even heard of, is that it's anti-Israel propaganda in the form of light entertainment that doesn't even need to mention Israel. The Arabs are so charming and normal, just like us. And of course they are, except for some of their...issues...but let's not be petty.

Does anyone really think that one can work for an international aid organization in the Middle East without discussing certain issues? Leaving them out of a movie is more than a bit disingenuous. This could be the chick flick equivalent of...I was going to say Das Boot, but that movie was so much more honest and innocent than this one. Because the doomed German submariners were victims, while some of the people in this movie are players, as are the makers of this movie. And every single person in this production knows exactly what they're doing.

Rick Darby said...

L.A.,

Good to hear from you again.

I did not perceive any hidden agenda in the film. "Hubby" was offscreen most of the time, and had a minor role.

Sheila said...

I hadn't heard of this movie, Rick, but the plot reminds me of an article I read on the web some weeks ago (cannot remember where) about white, British women and their third-world paramours. It was a rather extensive accounting of women (many older women or divorcees) who were willing partners to being romanced, bedded, duped, and dumped by their exotic Greek/Arab/Latin lovers. The irony is that even the author of the article, while noting the cultural differences that made such pairings highly unlikely to be legitimate or equally-desired on both sides, extolled her own Arab husband.

I realize you're not discussing politics but a mere movie, but to me it sounds like nothing more than a cinematic version of a bodice-ripper with a fair-haired damsel and a dashing sheik on the cover!

LA, you're right - your comment really does come off as paranoia. The entire world does not revolve around zionism or antizionism - really it doesn't.

Rick Darby said...

Sheila,

I knew one well-bred white woman who married a Nigerian and had a mixed-race child with him. The lure of the exotic? Political correctness? Rebellion against her upper middle class family? Or maybe he was actually a good man; I don't know, having met him only once briefly.

But I believe that, more often than not, women in such relationships wind up hurt emotionally or physically because they did not understand the gulf in standards of behavior between cultures.

It's possible a few immature women might see a film like Cairo Time and be influenced to try on the fantasy for themselves. Well, good luck to them. But in fairness, the movie didn't strike me as propaganda. Tariq is a likable character, but there is also a scene where a bunch of young male Egyptian louts pester Juliette when she goes out for a stroll.

latté island said...

Let me explain further, then. I think this is an example of taqiya (sp?), where the Muslim agenda is hidden behind some benign message. Here, part of the plot involves aid workers in Gaza. Okay, if I or any neutral American, not zionist but neutral, made a movie taking place in Egypt, that had Arabs and Americans interacting, I'd either show them discussing politics openly, or I'd at least make sure the characters were pro-Western, and here it means, pro-Israel. Reasonable people can disagree on this, but I'm on the side of Israel and against the Arabs in the current conflict. In my opinion, Israel is a friend of the West...Egypt, Gaza and those aid organizations, not so much.

So what should a neutral film maker do, if sincere about making a light, fluffy international romance? Well, the husband could be, say, an executive at the home office of McDonald's. His friend is the regional manager of McDonald's in Egypt. The Arab friend meets the wife at the airport, because the husband has to deal with a problem with McDonald's in, you know, Israel. Friendlies, not enemies. When the characters are involved with Gaza, that's a red flag that signals what this film is really about.

I think the principals in this movie, especially the director, financial backers and even the stars, know exactly what I'm talking about. They're a little less obvious about it than Ellen Page, a Hollywood hipster type who is often photographed in her kaffiyeh, but you don't have to wear a kaffiyeh to have the same agenda.

Guys, you need to spend more time at Gates of Vienna. This is taqiya from space.

latté island said...

I Googled this, and found an interview with the director and male lead. Voila! And with this, I promise to stop beating the dead horse, but this interview does provide the key to the subtext I noticed.

http://www.elanthemag.com/index.php/site/featured_articles_detail/ruba_naddas_cairo_time_narrowing_the_divide-nid374083090/

David said...

The lure of a relationship with a man from a different culture is probably partly inborn: a wired-in desire to mix up the gene pool a little. In times such as our own, though, I suspect it also has a lot to do with the West's loss of civilizational self-confidence. Arthur Koestler explored this theme in his 1950 novel "The Age of Longing," in which the protagonist, an American girl, has an affair with a dedicated Russian communist. My review/essay on this book is here: sleeping with the enemy.

Sheila said...

David - read your excellent essay and the interesting comment thread which followed. I was unfamiliar with this book by Koestler; I only knew of "Darkness at Noon." Many excellent points about Hydie's significance, particularly today - the weakness of feminism and the truth regarding male-female relationships (I'm a strong traditionalist), the West's loss of self confidence, the allure of the alien, etc. Far too many Americans who go abroad are seduced by other cultures and come to despise their own, because they began with no central moorings or strong tenets to anchor their characters. I, on the other hand, used my many years abroad (grad student and diplomat) to consider what made me an American, to decide that it mattered (to me and to my future offspring) and to gradually move from the liberalism I was taught to the "right-wing extremism" I now profess.

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Marcus Marcellus said...

I was going to comment on my dislike of Patricia Clarkson, a creature that to me embodies the worst aspects of American womanhood (as Lauren Bacal or Cindy Crawford embodied the best), but I can't stop laughing at latte island's comment that "Israel is a friend of the West." You may prefer the Israelis to the Arabs (who can blame you?), but if you think Israelis see themselves as the friends and allies of Europeans, call me to discuss some real estate properties I have in the Florida Everglades.