Cairo Time. Starring Patricia Clarkson, Alexander Siddig, Elena Anaya and Tom McCamus. Directed by Ruba Nadda. Rated M (infrequent coarse language and sexual references). 89 mins.
If you can’t manage a holiday in Egypt, seeing Cairo Time could be the next-best thing. Director Ruba Nadda, a Syrian woman resident in Toronto, is clearly in love with Egypt’s capital and gives the city’s scenic attractions great prominence in her languorous love story about a visiting American woman and an Arab man.
The bustle and beauty of the metropolis is so captivating in Luc Montpellier’s lovely cinematography that it all but elbows the story aside — not hard to do, since the film rests on a slim premise and Nadda allows her actors to underplay to the point of neglect.
Patricia Clarkson is Juliette, a magazine journalist arriving in Cairo to spend three weeks’ holiday with her husband, a UN official. But he is detained by some emergency in Gaza, so sends a member of his staff, Tareq (Alexander Siddig), to meet her at the airport and ensure she settles into her hotel.
Juliette finds that being a lone western woman in Cairo can be unsettling. Men follow her in the street and crowd her space. She is stared at when she enters a coffee bar that she learns later is for men only. So Tareq comes to her rescue, explains local customs and becomes her personal tourist guide.
He is a gracious and cultured man who is unmarried. She is feeling lonely, not just because her husband has been delayed but because her family back home has grown up and moved away. As Tareq shows her the sights of Cairo and environs, an attachment between them develops.
They boat on the Nile, visit the White Desert, stroll through bazaars, take a train to Alexandria to attend a wedding, smoke a hookah together … and every experience draws them closer. The pyramids? Yes, they figure in the film and, because Juliette had promised to see the pyramids with her husband, the possibility that she may visit them with Tareq becomes a metaphor for the depth of their feelings for one another.
But there is no overt sex. Juliette and Tareq teeter on the brink but are both too civilised and upright for that. This may please audiences who bemoan the over-emphasis on bedroom antics in movies but, when added to the often mundane dialogue and Clarkson’s flat, strangely detached performance, it makes the whole scenario seem coy and unconvincing.
Nadda’s script could have used some tightening and she should have insisted on more verve from her actors. If it’s a travelogue you’re after, the deficiencies of storytelling may not be an issue. But anyone looking for an absorbing study of human relationships will feel short-changed by this Canadian-Irish-Egyptian co-production.
Mr Jim Murphy is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out August 19