Cairo Time Review


I watched Cairo Time and I Am Love back to back, and the two films make for a really interesting study. Their themes are quite similar—woman past her prime finds love at an unexpected time. But they’re executed so differently. While I Am Love goes off a cliff in the final 45 minutes with overwrought melodrama and its excruciating score, Cairo Time takes a subtle, restrained approach, which proves to be infinitely more effective. Its picturesque locale and two fine performances also help, and though I thought the film actually could have used a smidge of I Am Love’s dramatic sentiment, I still found it quite lovely.

Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) is a magazine editor on her way to Cairo to meet her diplomat husband, Mark, for an extended holiday. At the Cairo airport, she’s instead met by Tareq (Alexander Siddig), her husband’s former security guard. He informs Juliette that Mark has been held up in Gaza and won’t make it to Cairo for a few days. Juliette begins to explore the city alone, but as the days progress, she starts to get restless and seeks out the company of Tareq. They tour the city. He teaches her a little about Egyptian culture. And with Mark still out of the picture, it becomes clear that these two share more than just a kinship and a love of Egypt.

To reduce Cairo Time to such a simple romance, however, is doing it a bit of a disservice. Its romance is incredibly low-key (almost to a fault), and the importance of the city of Cairo to the romance’s progression is unmistakable. In Tareq, Juliette is expressing her love for Cairo as well. He is her gateway to the city, and every moment spent with him brings her closer to this exotic land.

A film this restrained has to have exceptional performances to work, and luckily, Cairo Time gets the most out of two very underrated performers. Patricia Clarkson, I think, was just born to act. She elevates absolutely everything she’s in (including Shutter Island and Easy A earlier this year) and always appears radiant on screen. And like her character, I think Cairo brings the best out of this fine actress. Juliette’s transformation seems very organic, thanks to Clarkson, and while I know a performance this quiet would never get Oscar consideration, I think Clarkson would be very deserving of some formal recognition of her work.

Her equal in every way is Alexander Siddig, who has been just as overlooked as Clarkson over the course of his career. He was just great in both Kingdom of Heaven and Syriana, back in 2005, but I think his best work (at least that I’ve seen) comes here. We understand why a happily married woman might feel an attraction toward his character. He’s a three-dimensional individual, thanks to Siddig, and we root for the two of them to find fulfillment together, even if we know deep down that it can never happen.

For writer/director Ruba Nadda, this marks her highest-profile picture, and her work is very solid. She’s very sure of her style and pacing, and her love for Cairo comes through in every frame. This is a film that surprised me quite a bit. It has a Before Sunrise feel to it. It’s a mature romance for mature people, and I’m really happy to have spent an hour and a half in Cairo with these characters.

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