Friday, June 18, 2010

Sydney Film Festival: Cairo Time

A vibrant love letter to this ancient city, Cairo Time is an absolute gem. The resplendent Patricia Clarkson plays Juliette Grant, an American magazine editor arriving to rendezvous with her husband Mark (Tom McCamus) upon a promise to visit the pyramids. But when Mark, a United Nations refugee worker, is held up in Gaza, Juliette is left stranded in her luxurious hotel, with visits from her husband’s friend Tareq (Alexander Siddig) her only real respite from the mounting loneliness and culture shock.

Writer/director Ruba Nadda creates an enthralling travelogue of Juliette’s exotic purgatory. Beautifully framed and languorously paced, Nadda establishes a series of vignettes – from embassy parties with ‘petroleum wives,’ to finding a kindred spirit in another UN widow – with Juliette and Tareq’s blossoming friendship providing the story’s through line. Once Mark’s co-worker, Tareq now owns a coffee shop, which to her embarrassment Juliette discovers, is only for men. This is only one of many cross-cultural confrontations, which both she and Nadda navigate with a sensitive eye.

As Juliette and Tareq’s affection deepens, the film becomes a swoony, slow dance led by two exceptional performers. Always impressive in predominantly supporting roles, Clarkson here proves she can carry a film, with her trademark emotional intelligence and arrestingly quiet beauty. Moreover she is well matched by Siddig’s wonderfully understated portrayal. In an unashamedly romanticised view of Cairo, the film’s postcard perfect cinematography, evocative score and exquisite emotional journey effortlessly charms and delights.

Published by Street Press Australia
Australian release date (theatrical): 19 August 2010

***Update: Click here to be charmed some more by Patricia Clarkson as she appears on CBC's The Hour.

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