Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) goes to Egypt to meet her U.N. diplomat husband for a vacation, but he is detained on business indefinitely in Gaza. Although she spends some time alone, she also begins to spend time with Tareq (Alexander Siddig) , a former colleague of her husband, who picks her up from the airport and offers to be her tour guide. As the two spend time together, they find it harder to ignore the fact that there’s an attraction between them.
Here’s the thing about Cairo Time: If you go in expecting a slow, contemplative piece, you’re probably going to enjoy it. If you go in expecting a light romantic comedy, you’re going to be disappointed, and probably bored. However, I really liked this very quiet little film about buried desire.
Written and directed by Ruba Nadda, it becomes clear early on that Nadda’s movie is as much about a love affair with the city itself as it is about a love affair between two people. Sparse dialogue and long, gorgeous shots of the pyramids at Giza and crowded marketplaces take up much of the film. Nadda’s intentionally slow pacing is supposed to provide a juxtaposition between Juliette’s fast-paced New York life and Tareq’s much more relaxed life in Cairo, and for the most part it works, but it is at times so slow and filled with pauses so long that one can’t help but want to push these two people closer together.
Make no mistake about it: Clarkson and Siddig have palpable chemistry. Between her statuesque, vaguely Southern mannerisms and his positively smouldering eyes, the two sizzle when onscreen together. It is this chemistry that makes the film as enjoyable as it is, because if the two leads did not seem to like each other, this film would not have been as successful at conveying its message.
In some ways, it seems as though Nadda is attempting to skewer Western stereotypes of Arabs in her film. She is certainly inviting a conversation on gender and what it means to be a self-sufficient woman in the Arab world. However, the film is almost too cautious, relying too heavily on pauses and quiet moments and not enough on genuine emotion.
Even so, I really enjoyed it. By the time it was over, my heart was aching just a little bit for these characters, for the pain on their faces and the promise of what could have been. Recommended for fans of quiet, contemplative independent dramas.
Cairo Time is available on DVD now.