Cairo Time

Travel Channel’s Modern Romance


Starring: Patricia Clarkson, Alexander Siddig

By Robert Patrick

Watching Ruba Nadda’s film, “Cairo Time”, is like watching an episode of Samantha Brown’s show on the Travel Channel. Patricia Clarkson, who plays the lead character in the film, toddles around Egypt with a purse slung over her shoulder and a sundress slapped across her body. Naïve to the ways of Cairo, but wanting to learn all the same, she drinks and eats with the locals and is surprised when the country has adequate tasting tea. Yeah, Clarkson’s character is entitled and winsome, cordial and wanting of attention. “So many young men are giving me attention,” she coyly explains at one point within the film. I was expecting, at certain junctures within the movie, Clarkson to tell me cool vacation spots, or when the pyramids look the most delightful after sundown.

You see, Clarkson plays a character named Juliette, whose husband is working for the United Nations. When she travels to Cairo to see her husband, she is surprised to find that he is in Gaza for the time being on unforeseen business duties. Enter her husband’s assistant Tareq (Alexander Siddig), who is weathered enough to have a crinkle of wisdom in his eye, a slim body and deliberate posture, and the confidence of a classic leading man. Juliette swoons over Tareq, and soon they have an affair that has both parties clicking their fingers against each others faces, lovelorn stares bouncing off of each others pupils, and has the wistful mewling of an ill-fated romance. Yawn.

Throughout the movie we witness dialogue that is so dry I would rather listen to the winds of the Sahara desert. I’m sure a Meerkat has said more important things in its life than Patricia Clarkson manages to cull from her vocal chords in this film. But if you aren’t interested in the dialogue, you can see shots of Cairo that are constructed in a style reminiscent of “Man With a Movie Camera”, only uninteresting and less fulfilling than that of a yellowed postcard from a foreign country.

Nothing happens in this film. The camera follows Clarkson as she burrows into a bowl of food, walks around the streets, falls asleep in posh-looking chairs. Is there some underlying significance to these subtleties? No, I think not. But let me tell you about all the walking in this movie – man, there is a lot of walking. There is more uninspired waltzing in this film than in Gus Van Sant’s “Gerry”. And all of that alleged symbolism is awful. There is so many symbols in this movie I felt like I was looking at the character map of a computer. “Cairo Time” is a sedative in filmic form.

More distracting is the score by Niall Byrne. The plodding piano, plunking away with the enthusiasm of a box turtle, is such an obvious emotional artifice. Want to know what “Cairo Time” is like? Imagine listening to someone practicing piano for an nearly two-hours while you look through a National Geographic Magazine. Some say that the film’s dragging pace is a sort of  intrepid nuance – I say the film’s pace is pompous and indulgent. I would say it would work for character development, but there is no character to develop!

No, “Cairo Time” is a hub for all things mundane, a network of nothingness. Clarkson is a fine actress, indeed, but here she merely curls her lips into a sneaking smile and recites lines with little to no energy. The rest of the cast is passable, but there is nothing of consequence here. This is obviously the worst Samantha Brown episode ever.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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