‘Cairo Time’ a subtle romance in a foreign land

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Monday, September 13, 2010 1:30pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Sure to be overshadowed by the heavier-breathing “I Am Love” and “Eat Pray Love,” the new indie “Cairo Time” explores similar turf. Maybe the filmmakers should’ve put the word “Love” in the title.

Like those other films, “Cairo Time” looks at a woman’s journey through scenic locations and exotic romance. This one’s a low-key exercise, however.

The woman in question is Juliette, played by that classy, seasoned performer of the independent scene, Patricia Clarkson. Juliette has come to Cairo to meet her husband, but he has been delayed by United Nations business in Palestine.

So his friend Tareq (Alexander Siddig, “Syriana”) steps in to show Juliette around town a little. What follows, none too surprisingly, is a gentle, gradual attraction between the two people.

As Juliette and Tareq are roaming the streets of Cairo, you can almost feel the warm winds and smell the Egyptian spices. And as they stroll past the pyramids or search through a bazaar, you can sense the intimacy growing.

Not that this vision of Cairo is all picture-postcard material. We also note that Juliette, as a woman wandering the streets alone, gets hassled by men. Meanwhile, her husband’s problems with the political volatility in Gaza are never far away.

Banish all thoughts of the American women visiting a Middle Eastern country in “Sex and the City 2.” Director Rubba Nada, a Canadian filmmaker, is up to much subtler stuff here.

It sounds like the makings of a soap opera, and perhaps at times it is. But the two lead actors are terrifically good, even if Clarkson comes across as a little too serene and sane to contemplate an affair, and they somehow manage to navigate the sudsier possibilities of the story.

The other thing that saves it is the filmmaker’s discretion. “Cairo Time” operates under the presumption that near-misses and close calls might be as interesting to watch as full-contact lovemaking.

Naturally, this approach might also limit its appeal. Let’s face it, the thrill of denial has a smaller audience than its more explicit counterpart. But that discretion is what makes “Cairo Time” linger pleasantly in the mind after it’s over.

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