The always-lovely and fabulous Patricia Clarkson plays Juliette, a woman who has traveled to Egypt’s capital city to meet her UN-worker husband for a holiday. But alas, he is delayed in joining her because of trouble in Gaza, so instead she meets up with his friend Tareq (Alexander Siddig, of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) who volunteers to be her local guide.
The two don’t know each other, but come to the meeting with their own pre-conceived impressions from their relationship with the Juliette’s absent husband. They are polite and curious, and a little hesitant as they trip over misunderstandings, between culture and language, not wanting to appear rude. But as they slowly get to know each other, they relax and open up. Juliette is no wallflower with her opinions, but is smart enough to play a fair game with Tareq’s equally sharp views. This is no bodice-ripping romance, by any means, but there is a sweet building tension as these two people meet between their two cultures to find a pleasing and equal match.
But Cairo Time is more than an intimate profile of two strangers meeting (you might be reminded of other talky, stranger-in-a-strange land pics like Lost In Translation, or Before Sunrise and its sequel). It is also a love letter to the city of Cairo (the film is gorgeously shot, awash in golden light) and an ode to travel. This is not the “see the tourist sites of the city in two days” kind of travel. This is the type where you wander down strange streets, hang out in coffee shops and talk to the locals, and take up a stranger’s invitation to have lunch in a hut in the desert. Juliette’s whole experience does not revolve around Tareq. In her wanderings, she also meets many others (both locals and internationals) that shape her view of the city and region as a whole. But Tareq’s kindness, reserve, tradition, and warmth comes to symbolize the city as a whole.
Cairo Time is a perfect armchair traveler antidote to a rainy day. I liked that it wasn’t implied that Juliette was unhappy with her life, or that she needed to “find herself” in a foreign land. She is just a strong, smart woman who is adapting to a new culture and situation, and being completely open to the experience. Patricia Clarkson is lovely and radiant, and Alexander Siddig is a charming guide. I wouldn’t have minded hanging out with Juliette and Tareq a little longer.