Nope, this definitely isn’t 2 days late, what are you talking about… 😛
An American woman arrives in a foreign country and, disconnected from her husband, experiences a fleeting connection with a man she meets. No, I’m not talking about Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola’s neon, pop music infused, Tokyo-set drama that plays like the most beautiful dream ever, I’m talking about Ruba Nadda’s Cairo Time. Both are films exploring similar themes – alienation and discomfort in foreign locations, only to find companionship in an unexpected place – but, like the locations they show, Coppola and Nadda’s films exhibit as many differences as there are between a rainy day walking through gardens in Tokyo and attending a wedding in Alexandria.
Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) is a workaholic magazine editor from New York, travelling to Cairo under the pretense of having a vacation with her husband Mark, who is working for the UN in Gaza. But when Tareq (Alexander Siddig), a friend of her husband, arrives at the airport to take her to the hotel, it’s clear that this trip is going to turn out much different than planned.
Rooted in a much broader social context than Lost in Translation, Cairo Time explores the much further-reaching implications of the conflict in Gaza (at times, somewhat clumsily) and the culture of Egypt, which hovers between past traditions and Western progress, situated only kilometres from each other.
The characters of Juliette and Tareq represent this. Unlike other films exploring similar feelings of alienation and mystery in cities, which do so via. two characters from foreign countries, Nadda’s film is part-tourist, part-native, accessing both the pyramids and homes, which allows for an immersive examination of a much more traditional culture.
As Juliette and Tareq, Clarkson and Siddiq are effortless. Clarkson slides wonderfully into the character, making the film eminently watchable. Like the film, their chemistry between the two is so easy. It’s unhurried, not a hint of forcefulness, and need to rush into anything, just going from moment-to-moment, not concerned about what the next hour may bring, valuing each other’s company over all else. By the end of the film, their relationship has slightly deviated beyond friendship into a burgeoning romance, so quiet that if you blink, you might miss it, but it never progresses. Nadda maintains her view that the beauty is not in progressing quickly, in fevered lovemaking as curtains billow, but the cautiousness when the characters are still getting to know each other. In other words, before it gets complicated. Their relationship is so much more than lust. Like Juliette at the end, while you feel a sinking feeling of what might have been, of being interrupted after such a big moment, you’re “glad I waited”. Not in regards to the recurring plot point of the pyramids, which represents a new chapter in Juliette’s relationship with Tareq, but not letting it get complicated, realising that the bond built while exploring a complex, wildly different city is something that cannot be replicated in a romance.
Cairo Time is an exercise in restraint, which makes the degree it reels the viewer in so surprising. Intoxicatingly lensed in warm tones with oasis-like splashes of blue and green by Luc Montpellier (Away From Her, Take This Waltz), it moves slowly, and before you know it, this love letter to Egypt, full of ancient traditions, locations and a way of life unlike anywhere else on the planet that ignites personal awakenings, has won you over. This is a study of people, places, and time, and how seamlessly they fit together, flowing as quietly and calmly as a stream, slipping away faster than you realise, like the days chronicled in the film. It may have passed quickly, but they will never truly leave you.