By Brian Lafferty
August 22, 2010 (San Diego)--Cairo Time is a film best appreciated as art. Forget the simplistic, nearly nonexistent plot involving a budding affair between an American woman and her husband’s Egyptian friend. I admired this film for it’s cinematography and it’s visual style which included such lyrical imagery as the Pyramids, the mosques, the streets, the desert, and the Nile. The script, not unlike the characters, wanders almost aimlessly but I liked where it took the characters and I enjoyed where it took me.
At the beginning of Cairo Time, Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) arrives in Egypt, awaiting her husband, who works for the United Nations. She soon finds out she’ll have to wait a little longer, as he’s tied up in work at the Gaza Strip. However, his good friend Tareq (Alexander Siddig), is there to keep her company. The majority of the film consists of the near-affair of two people who know they might never see each other again. He shows her the sights of Egypt while engaging in nice conversation.
Writer/director Ruba Nadda and Patricia Clarkson give the film a “stranger in a strange land” feel. Juliette, the only caucasian woman, is constantly stared at by men on the street. She wakes up very early in the morning to the Adhan (the Islamic call to prayer), which sounds all across town. She cannot help but watch a Muslim man praying on a rug on a busy sidewalk.
Nadda and cinematographer Luc Montpellier demonstrate a knack for composition. Juliet’s hotel room sliding glass doors are opened and the curtains are positioned at equal lengths. She then puts a chair directly in the middle, balancing it out. Later, there is a more beautiful shot of the sun setting between two pyramids, creating a golden glow.
The camera is consistently placed at a distance from the characters, with many shots either a medium shot or wider. There are very few close-ups. In addition, the characters are often situated in the middle of the frame. This recreates the emotional distance Juliette feels from her surroundings. The buildings and sets dwarf her but it isn’t overwhelming because it illustrates how big of a new and strange world it is for her.
There are also nicely filmed long takes. One of them has the camera tracking her as she walks through the people at a banquet, staring absently at everything around her. The camera then stops, turns around and reveals the pyramids basked in moonlight and stars.
Cairo Time is never boring and even when my mind started to roam, something always managed to bring me back. If it wasn’t the visuals, it was always the two leads and their small adventures. The movie is very romantic and when the husband arrived, I could feel and understand her pain as she choked up after leaving Tareq. When he looks at her with concern, she tells him, “I’m so happy I waited.” So was I.