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Movie Review: Cairo Time

By Philip Martin

This article was published September 24, 2010 at 3:56 a.m.

— There is a wistful placidity at the heart of Ruba Nadda’s Cairo Time that, while not at all unpleasant, will likely feel foreign to most American moviegoers. For this is a movie that more than subverting our expectations, refuses to engage them. It has at its heart the mildest kind of dalliance, a betrayal so small and excusable it mightn’t even register.

Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) is an American woman who arrives in Cairo - it’s her first visit - expecting to meet her husband, a United Nations official there. (They intend to visit the pyramids of Giza together.) But a flare-up in the Gaza Strip detains him in Israel, so he arranges for a former colleague, an Egyptian named Tareq (Alexander Siddig), to meet her at the airport and ferry her to her luxury hotel.

Over the course of several days, the elegant, diffident Tareq and the at-loose-ends Juilette explore the city, a teeming yet surprisingly melancholy metropolis where bustling, noisy markets full of sexually predatory young men co-exist with peaceful mosques. It’s obviousNadda has the city in mind as a character, a sort of matchmaker who sanctions the inchoate affair.

But while the movie’s gentleness is appealing, and the romance is believably calibrated - we understand why these two grown-ups begin to have feelings for each other - there’s something a little off about the Juliette character. She’s a little too girlish and dreamy, and Clarkson plays her as a bit of a simp. We’re expected to believeher as an experienced journalist - at one point she suggests writing a story about Cairo’s street children, an idea coolly received by Tareq - and a starry-eyed innocent apparently susceptible to mad passion.

And in the film’s last act, there is nothing so violent as a twist, but a slight bend that threatens to throw the film into a lower, tougher gear, but even this diffuses into an intelligent, vaguely literary fog - and all resolves into reasonableness, into the careful husbandry of emotion. Which, while typical of how these quasi-affairs resolve in real life, makes for underwhelming drama.

MovieStyle, Pages 38 on 09/24/2010

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