Cairo Time is a thoughtful,
understated, well-photographed character piece anchored by a good performance
by an appealing actress. In the lead, Patricia Clarkson gives
a quiet, lovely performance, as is her tendency. Writer-director
Ruba Nadda's script is sensitive and subtly searching, and her direction
is elegant without being slick. As a character piece, it requires,
more than the average genre picture, that we feel that we know something
about the protagonist. At first, it seems as though Nadda is perhaps
a touch too aloof in her approach to Clarkson's character. But
Cairo Time admirably constructs its two lead characters over time,
rather than rushing to etch them too firmly at the outset.
Clarkson plays Juliette, a magazine
editor who arrives in Cairo looking to reconnect with her husband, a
UN staffer who is delayed in Israel due to fighting in Gaza. She
ends up whiling away the days waiting for him in the city, often in
the company of her husband's friend, Tareq (Alexander Siddig).
Tareq is a gentlemanly bachelor who remains tactfully aloof during their
outings, despite his obvious attraction to her - and to her foreign-ness.
Cairo Time has something in
common with David Lean's Summertime from 1954, but it's tone
is different, and it's charged with the concerns and politics of our
own time. Nadda invests Juliette with a fairly naive grasp of
recent global events and cultural tensions; this is clever work, as
it forces viewers to test their own assumptions against Juliette's naiveté
and weigh whether or not we are too prejudiced. Still, the film
has a light touch in this area, never even approaching the brow-beating
we commonly receive from movies that wish to prove a point. That
light touch is assisted by the gorgeous photography, which is fluid
and expressive without being too romantic or fussy. There's no
use of soft-focus here. This isn't Eay Pray Love by any
means. Cairo Time is shot with confident simple beauty
that reflects a classic sensibility in terms of photographing a story.
Juliette is an observer, and there's
a Jim Jarmusch quality to her ramblings and wanderings, her exposure
to a new way of life, and her quiet growth throughout the course of
the story. Clarkson is the Blossom Dearie of actresses.
She's blonde, petite, and quiet. Everything she does is deeply
felt but gently communicated. She has good taste and poise, and
an old-fashioned grace. Here, Clarkson suggests tastefully masked
reservoirs of emotion that she and Nadda only hint at during carefully
timed moments. For all that, Cairo Time never feels contrived
or overworked. The film suggests the hard work that went into
it only inasmuch as it all comes off so well. Siddig is also very
good, portraying a man similar to Juliette in his sense of dignity and
allegiance to good taste and principled behavior. He is a charming,
modest old soul who prefers his own concept of rectitude over life's
Image and Sound
IFC Films presents Cairo Time in an enhanced 2.35:1 transfer
that agreeably showcases the elegant, beautifully-lit photography of
Luc Montpellier. Very good contrast and solid night scenes are
generally free of digital break-up. The 5.1 surround soundtrack
is also very good, with some surprisingly active ambience and a solid
presentation of Niall Byrne's meditative piano-oriented score.
A very nice technical presentation all around.
There is a full-length Commentary Track with writer-director
Ruba Nadda and Luc Montpellier. It's a good, production-oriented
track that covers a lot of ground. Both participants are down-to-earth
and engaging. There is a single Deleted Scene (3:16) that
extends the film's denouement. There is a short making-of
Featurette (7:15) that includes interesting commentary from Nadda.
A Toronto Q&A (25:57) includes participation from Nadda,
Siddig, and Clarkson. Finally, there is a group of four earlier
Short Films by Nadda, all of them well worth a look.
Nadda's careful work in Cairo
Time places her among a growing crop of major female filmmakers,
but what is most significant about this film is that it is thoroughly
thought through on every level. It is an accomplished character
study that bears the best kind of understated technical polish and two
outstanding performances. Highly recommended.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.