' Cinema Romantico: Cairo Time

Friday, February 04, 2011

Cairo Time

Juliette and Kathryn are visiting the white desert of Egypt. They discuss their marriages. “You have always been with your husband?” Kathryn asks Juliette. “Yes,” replies Juliette. “You seem happy,” offers Kathryn, “that’s all that matters.” It takes a great actress, which is what Patricia Clarkson is, who is playing Juliette, to have allowed the audience up to that point to glean, without her or the script or the movie telling us specifically, that, in fact, she is not entirely happy. It's maybe wrong to say she’s unhappy but she is definitely not bursting with joy. She kinda seems to be in that treacherous middle ground, unchanging, on auto pilot. But now she’s in a new place and the script has been flipped just a little and now....well, now she's on "Cairo Time."


Juliette has come to Cairo to meet up with her husband (Tom McCamus), a UN official working at a refugee camp in Gaza. But, as he must be, he is eternally delayed, leaving Juliette alone in a mysterious city. Eh, not quite. Her husband’s former assistant, Tareq (Alexander Siddig), who runs his own coffee shop in Cairo, is entrusted to pick Juliette up and, you know, keep an eye on her. He is kind, sweet, patient, intelligent, handsome, all that which her husband is not. On second thought, we have no idea what Juliette’s husband is like. That’s for Juliette to know and us to ponder and, frankly, what her husband is or isn’t seems beside the point.

Juliette gets to know the city. First, on her own, wandering alone down streets, a definite no-no, as men, dozens of men, of all ages, follow her. She enters coffee shops that are designated men-only. The heat of the afternoon astounds her but not as much as the local women who have to trudge around in that same heat with black garb covering their entire bodies.

If ever a film felt unhurried, “Cairo Time” would be the film. Clarkson, often demonstrative, such as in her arsenic laced, Oscar nominated turn in "Pieces of April" or as the heroin addicted German lesbian in "High Art", here goes in the other direction and is unwilling to let herself be the point and nothing but the point. She is enveloped by Cairo and, thus, we are too. Even Juliette's ill-begotten attempt to track down her husband in Gaza via the bus never feels as suspenseful as one might think. This is not to accuse the film of being slow, though no doubt viewers of a certain disposition will find it to be just that, but to say that it ably captures the sensation of those extended, often unexpected, periods where time somehow, improbably, slows down and allows us to catch our breath even if so many new sights and sensations surround us. Perhaps this is why I’ve never understood the typical American tourist enterprise of “We’ve gotta SEE the sights!!!" Chill out, man. Find a cafe. Sip a beverage. Soak in the atmosphere. The Pyramids are cool, I know, but we’ll get there when we get there.

A relationship burgeons in a way between Juliette and Tareq but it is no hot & heavy affair, no star cross’d romance. It isn't love. It's a stolen season. Two people share momentous time in the most unanticipated way possible and then Juliette's husband turns up and they get on that elevator and she looks at Tareq and he looks at her and she's not heartbroken, she's just thinking, "Yup. I'm back on real time. God damn real time."

1 comment:

5plitreel said...

I've seen Groundhog Day so many times that my life feels like Groundhog day..