Got a Couple Hours? Take Time for Cairo

When it comes to movies, I’m often late to the game, as I usually catch them on DVD well after they’ve been released in the theaters. So only last week did I bring Cairo Time (2009) home from the library and watch it with my wife. I had not heard about it before and only picked it out because of the title and synopsis on the case. Sometimes that leads to disappointment, but this time, it paid off.

Cario Time is directed by Ruba Nadda, an Arab-Canadian, and stars Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig. Clarkson plays Juliette, the wife of a UN worker who travels to Egypt to meet her husband for a long-awaited vacation. When she arrives, her husband is unable to leave his work in Gaza, so his friend, Tareq (Siddig) picks her up at the airport and introduces her to the city. Tareq is a dashing gentleman, and he and Juliette develop a relationship over the next several days. As several reviewers mention, Cairo is another major character in the story, as Juliette is swept off her feet by a city that also frustrates her. In a way, her relationship with Tareq mirrors how she feels about Cairo, enchanted yet perplexed by her own feelings . . . infatuated by the exotic newness while drawn back by her own “culture.”

Included on the DVD is a “Making Of” segment, in which Nadda says that the reason she became a filmmaker was because she “was desperate to shed light on the common misconceptions the West has of the Middle East.” The segment also includes behind-the-scenes footage from a “very Islamic, very religious” part of Egypt where they filmed a scene. The director was warned not to go there, but they did anyway, and she says it turned out being “one of the best days of [her] life.” They met a poor family there who welcomed them, gave them sodas, and asked about Seinfeld. With accompanying footage, Nadda tells this story:

The man’s wife, she’s veiled, she said “I need to be validated, I need to show the world what I look like.” And she began to unveil. And I was like, “But you’re going to be on camera. The West will see you.” And she said, “I don’t care. I want to show people that I exist.”

Cairo Time is not a fast-paced movie. Rather it moves at a deliberate, thoughtful pace. As Clarkson says in “Toronto Q & A” (also on in the “Bonus” section of the DVD), the director “had the courage to let there be silence.” Nadda adds,

I wanted to show a story that wasn’t about immediate gratification, you know, which is, I find, sometimes, a bit North American. It was “Cairo time.” . . . Cairo is so crazy and chaotic and beautiful, bustling, but it’s also an assault to the senses, and that chips away at your guard and it forces you to slow down whether you like it or not.

[photo: “Pyramids,” by Wilhelm Joys Andersen, used under a Creative Commons license]