Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Clarkson, Siddig and Egypt share the screen in Ruba Nadda's lovely CAIRO TIME

How unusual to see a love story for adults, one that takes its sweet time (yes, the CAIRO TIME of the title) while it alternately surprises, soothes and shakes you up.  But quietly.  Young people will need to be awfully mature to appreciate this film, though it was made by one of them: Ruba Nadda, shown below, a Canadian writer/director with middle-eastern roots who is still in her 30s. To reap the full benefits of the film, you must be willing to enter the soul of the protagonist, a happily-married, middle-aged woman (Patricia Clarkson) arriving in Egypt for a vacation with her husband (employed by the United Nations and posted in Cairo).

Ms Clarkson is as ravishing and as reserved as I have ever seen her (and I try to see her in everything she does).  She also radiates intelligence and humor. Interestingly enough, her co-star, Alexander Siddig (from Syriana, The Nativity Story and The Last Legion) possesses all these qualities, too.  He's a gorgeous man: beautiful, bright, reticent and witty. What a pair they make, and their story, as it flows quietly along with an occasional up or down, entrances.  Mr. Siddig plays the recently-retired assistant of Clarkson's husband, the latter suddenly stuck in Palestine due to an "incident."  Siddig (shown two photos below) has been asked to squire Clarkson (shown just below) around the city and cater to her needs until hubby returns.

This set-up is certainly real enough, and the pair relate to each other in a halting but friendly manner that grows only slowly into something more.  A Hollywood version, made by folks a decade or so younger, would probably have the two people begin their relationship at odds with one another, fighting and then inevitably loving.  Get over that scenario; these are mature adults, and Cairo Time is the kind of adult movie experience you'll want to share with every smart, mature moviegoer you know.

The relationship grows in very quiet increments, and the performances could hardly be more finely calibrated.  Yet, thanks to Ms Nadda's skill and that of her actors, there's nary a moment here that seems rehearsed or overly "planned."  Sometimes, in fact, we're on tenterhooks as to what is going to happen;  in terms of this relationship and its outcome, the movie is often as suspenseful as any thriller.

The film should have you making plans to visit Egypt; it is doubtful that a better commercial for the country's travel industry has yet been made. Cairo really is a third character here, from the Nile that flows alongside Clarkson's hotel to the pyramids seen somehow differently here than I have experience them so far on film.  The marketplaces, the coffee houses, the streets (and the crossing of them!), and most especially how the men of the city react to this strawberry-blond visitor: Cairo Time is a kind of non-stop, quiet revelation.

Custom clashes, the roles of men and women, the weaving looms (above), chess (below), and more; we experience all these through the eyes of both Clarkson's character and that of Siddig's.  This makes the film richer and more complicated than a single view would have provided. In the supporting cast, only the lovely Elena Anaya (last seen here in Hierro, part of the 2009 FSLC's Spanish Cinema Now series) stands out.  But the movie belongs to Clarkson and Siddig (and to Ms Nadda).

I suspect the ending is what will separate the women from the girls (and the men from the boys -- if many males will even take a chance on this one).  I found the finale very close to perfect -- though I admit, had this tale gone another way, I would have embraced that, too.  So real and so full have these two characters become, that I think most of us would follow them anywhere.

Cairo Time opens this Friday in New York City at the IFC Center, and will be simultaneously available, as well, via IFC On-Demand.  (Though if you do not have a large, wide-screen TV, the movie theater is the way to see this one.)  Click here to determine of your area of the country has access to IFC On Demand.

TrustMovies sat in on a Roundtable with Nadda, Siddig and Clarkson, which he hopes to transcribe and have posted soon. For now, he'll just say that the three were as cultivated, quick-witted and seemingly genuine as any movie people he's so far encountered.  It was especially pleasing to find the principals of a film one has loved to be as delightful as the movie itself.


TrustMovies said...

Meghan -- thanks for this update, which I hope my readers will cotton to -- and watch! I sure will.
--Jim V.

Meghan said...

Sure thing!

I hope you (and your readers) enjoyed the episode.