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With: Patricia Clarkson, Alexander Siddig, Elena Anaya, Tom McCamus, Amina Annabi, Andrew Cullen, Mona Hala, Fadia Nadda, Cynthia Amsden
Written by: Ruba Nadda
Directed by: Ruba Nadda
MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic elements and smoking
Language: Arabic, English, with English subtitles
Running Time: 90
Date: 09/13/2009
IMDB

Cairo Time (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

In the Grip of Egypt

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Cairo Time has three stars: the luminous Patricia Clarkson, the lanky, gentle Alexander Siddig ("Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," and Syriana), and the city of Cairo itself, sprawled out around and between them at every moment. It's one of those movies in which the very air -- its smells and warmth -- seems to emanate from the screen. The movie is almost a travelogue, except that Nadda is smart enough to include glimpses of the city's ugliness as well as its beauty, as well as acknowledging the uneasy, necessary balance between the two. It's a movie of moments, good ones and bad ones, all coming one after another, just like life.

This movie will no doubt be compared to Lost in Translation and Before Sunset, delicate tales of dislocated souls who find solace in other, equally dislocated souls, usually in a foreign land. Usually these people are already married, or at least come with complicated baggage, but it's this wistful yearning, this sense of tragedy and lost time that makes these kinds of movies special. Cairo Time is definitely the least of the three movies, mainly because it never trusts itself enough to get truly lost. Yet, even in its careful hesitation, it finds a kind of grace.

Clarkson plays Juliette, who arrives in Cairo hoping to meet her husband, a NATO man. Instead, Tareq (Siddig) meets her and informs her that her husband is stuck in Gaza. Tareq used to work for the husband but recently retired to run a coffee shop. He offers his services to Juliette should she need them. Juliette is far from the ugly American; she's quiet and polite, but still blunders into some odd situations. She finds that men not only follow her, but brush right up against her. She also wanders into Tareq's café without realizing that it's for men only. She even boards a bus for Gaza without realizing the military danger involved.

Nadda unfolds this with a gentle, observant pace, relying on Clarkson's deep, thoughtful performance to help drive things (and show things down). Clarkson brings an entire history to this character with just her eyes, face and body. Thankfully, Tareq is shown to have his dark side as well; he's more than just the "pure," unsullied, non-American native. When these two fall in love, the movie avoids big, passionate moments or painful payoffs. It doesn't blame the exotic locale, either. It's just something that happened between moments.

(Reviewed April 28, 2010, at the San Francisco International Film Festival.)

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