By embracing the gentle spirit of classic Hollywood romances like An Affair to Remember and making good use of attractive leads Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig, Cairo Time filmmaker Ruba Nadda makes a modern love story sure to please mainstream specialty audiences interested in a sweet break from more challenging fare. Beautiful photography of the Cairo cityscape and a lovely score by Irish composer Niall Byrne bring added polish to the fast-paced drama. IFC purchased U.S. rights to Cairo Time soon after its showings at the Toronto International Film Festival and should experience good reviews and strong response from older arthouse moviegoers both theatrically and on VOD when the film opens in 2010.
Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) is a magazine editor who travels to Cairo to spend time with her Canadian diplomat husband, Mark (Tom McCamus). She arrives only to learn that her husband is in the Palestinian territories on business. Taking her husband's place as tour guide is Tareq (Alexander Siddig), a former employee of Mark's. The friendship between Juliette and Tareq starts out innocently. During their time together, especially after attending a friend's wedding, their relationship turns romantic.
Current movie romances often over-emphasize comedy or quickly sink to the level of cable TV soap operas, but Cairo Time remains smart, compelling and appropriately sad at its finale. Nadda, who also scripted the film, steps away from the numerous period costume dramas that fill arthouse screens by setting Cairo Time in present day. The film's political themes, including a Western businesswoman coping with some of the misogynistic traits of Arab culture, make Juliette's story all the more riveting. In one of the film's best sequences, Juliette leaves the beautiful hotel lobby and walks outside only to find men who surround her and flirt predatorily. It's a welcome element of unease to a generally sweet tale and a reminder that Juliette is in a foreign land facing new customs.
Nadda is an Arab woman but also a Canadian with Western habits and modern feminist beliefs. She has proven her technical talents before via numerous shorts and features, such as I Always Come to You (2000), Unsettled (2001) and Sabah (2005). Cairo Time is a showcase for her storytelling talents, her ability to engage diverse audiences and inspire great performances from veteran actors. Cinematographer Luc Montpellier (The Saddest Music in the World) and production designer Tamara Conboy make great use of the teeming Cairo streets as well as the desert landscape outside the bustling city. Composer Niall Byrne accentuates the tender moments with a beautiful score. In one of the more emotional scenes, Juliette and Tareq visit a carpet factory outside the city and watch young girls work at elaborate looms. Watching the girls work in harsh conditions makes an impact on Juliette, as well as on audiences.
Patricia Clarkson is stunning in a canary yellow dress with her sunglasses perched atop her head, a classic American beauty. After supporting roles in recent Woody Allen comedies Whatever Works and Vicky Cristina Barcelona and the period drama Married Life, Clarkson shines as a romantic lead and brings heart and sympathy to the conflicted Juliette.
Alexander Siddig (Syriana, 24) makes good use of his old world charm and good looks as Tareq. His leading man talents are confirmed when a brief kissing scene outside the hotel elevators generates sparks. Siddig's likable performance is also key to the core suspense of the movie: Juliette's quandary between faithfulness to her husband and her desires for Tareq.
Clarkson is Cairo Time's best asset, not only for being a recognizable face to audiences but a beloved actress for critics. Marketing campaigns that focus on Clarkson making her long-awaited debut as a romantic heroine will help attract wider arthouse audiences with strong support from mature women. Cairo Time is an impressive showpiece for Clarkson, who has a core fan base on the specialty circuit. It's also an impressive introduction to U.S. audiences for Nadda. Her storytelling talents are deserving of higher-profile features.
Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Alexander Siddig and Tom McCamus
Director/Screenwriter: Ruba Nadda
Producers: Daniel Iron and David Collins
Rating: PG for mild thematic elements and smoking.
Running time: 88 min
Release date: August 6 NY