Cairo Time
At least Michael Bay isn’t here destroying pyramids with robots …

Theatrical Release Date: 08/20/2010
Director: Ruba Nadda
Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Alexander Siddig, Elena Anaya, Tom McCamus, Amina Annabi

When I saw that Patricia Clarkson was the featured player in writer/director Ruba Nadda’s “Cairo Time”, I circled the date on my calendar. Clarkson is a radiant performer, more often than not saddled with supporting role status, that still manages to make the size of her part feel like a lead. It’s an impressive feat and a credit to her remarkable ability to leave an indelible mark on any film she’s involved with.

In “Cairo Time”, she plays a successful businesswoman, loving mother, and adoring wife of a UN muckety muck (Tom McCamus). The film opens as she lands in Cairo, hoping to see her husband after some time apart as he has been deeply involved in the area’s socio-political issues. Due to a recent bout of unrest, he cannot get away and asks his longtime friend and former assistant (Alexander Siddig) to make sure she’s taken care of until he can return. Of course, as one could surmise, this one on one time between the pair leads to more than either had expected.

Clarkson and Siddig share a beautiful chemistry, building their complex relationship meticulously and cautiously. Some of this credit must also go to Nadda, for making sure that the quiet moments between the two are allowed to play out, allowing for subtlety as opposed to relying on the unbridled and obvious methods a big studio film would rely on. Seeing these two people develop their attraction, fight it, succumb to it, and yet still remain mature about the entire process was an exercise in both joy and heartbreak.

As fascinating a character study as that may be, the film is also a love letter to Cairo. I’m all for this idea, as I’ve never traveled there, and Nadda shows off the beauty and history of the city quite well. However, in blending the two objectives, a disconnect appears because the film is now full of very slow moving scenes, somewhat reminiscent of “Lost in Translation”. The difference in the two films though is the pacing of the relationships. In Sofia Coppola’s film, it’s less obvious where Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray are headed. From Clarkson and Siddig’s first meeting, we’re well aware that these two shouldn’t be left alone for too long, considering she’s married to another man.

While the actors are central to this issue, it’s only a problem because of the direction and editing. Nadda should have done more to make their relationship less predictable and when boiling down all the essential elements, both she and the editor probably could have cut the film down to 45 or 50 minutes. Even at a relatively short 90 minutes, I felt that time going by and would have said it had been two hours in that dark theater if it weren’t for my ability to read a clock.

Had this been a short film, I’d have applauded Nadda’s efforts with much fanfare and hoped for many awards to roll its way. However, as a feature, there’s just too much filler here and I can only give “Cairo Time” a 3.5 out of 5. It’s far superior to “Eat Pray Love” though and addresses many of the same issues. Clarkson and Siddig fans should definitely check it out, as their performances are beautiful, and if one is wanting to reminisce about their trip to Cairo, I could see the rationale for seeing the film as well. Some of the wide shots probably play better on the big screen but waiting for DVD or HD cable might make the most sense.