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CAIRO TIME (director/writer: Ruba Nadda; cinematographer: Luc Montpellier; editor: Teresa Hannigan; music: Niall Byrne; cast: Patricia Clarkson(Juliette), Alexander Siddig (Tareq), Elena Anaya (Kathryn), Amina Annabi (Yasmeen), Tom McCamus (Mark), Mona Hala (Jameelah); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Daniel Iron/David Collins; IFC Films; 2009-Canada-in Arabic and English with English subtitles)
Clarkson, in one of her few leading roles, is the film’s bright spot and reason for seeing the film.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Canadian filmmaker of Syrian background Ruba Nadda (“Unsettled”/”Sabah”/”I Always Come to You“) is writer-director of this engaging touristy romantic chamber piece, a woman’s pic, that moves at a leisurely pace with long moments of silent pauses, as it tours exotic Cairo in a lyrical way and awakens a new sensuality in our western heroine yearning for new experiences in a culture that she’s not too familiar with but willing to go somewhat cautiously with the flow of something new.

Juliet (Patricia Clarkson) is a Canadian fashion-magazine editor on a vacation to visit her long-absent husband Mark (Tom McCamus), who is stationed in the Middle-East as a U.N. worker for refugee camps. But Mark can’t be with her as he gets called to a Gaza camp for an emergency that takes a few days clearing up and Juliet is going bonkers left alone in a city where a single woman from the West will be harassed by the men if she walks the streets alone–something she experiences for herself. To her rescue comes hubby’s former U. N. security colleague Tareq (Alexander Siddig), who responds to Mark’s plea to look after his wife. He’s a polite, educated and handsome English-speaking Arab, who took over running his father’s Cairo coffeehouse. For the next several days they explore the city together: sailing on the Nile, viewing the Pyramids, smoking water pipes in the coffeehouses, observing teenage girls make carpets for slave-like wages, attending the wedding of the daughter of Tareq’s former lover (Amina Annabi) now a widow, and walking around the bustling city to take in its many attractions and beautiful musical sounds. A yearning develops between the happily married woman and her courtly single man host, a gentleman of considerable restraint who also feels like an outsider as he yearns for the old days of a quieter and less dangerous Cairo.

Workaholic Juliet, whose two grown-up children no longer live at home, feels dislocated in this strange place and the only thing that saves her from an affair is the arrival in the nick of time of her husband.

It’s a subdued film, probably too cautionary, that never reaches beyond superficial touristy observerations, though Clarkson, in one of her few leading roles, is the film’s bright spot and reason for seeing the film. The accomplished character actress’ brilliant sensitive portrayal of a fifty-something woman who feels the affects of looking at herself in a new light and allows herself to be imbued for the moment by the romantic mood of the mysterious city and impulsively is willing to give in to a whim to have an affair that she would never have considered back home, gently leads us into the film’s wistful theme about the vagaries of love, memories and impressions that are often distorted.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”