Toronto Review: "Cairo Time"

By Melissa Algaze Tuesday September 15th 2009 05:59AM

Canadian Director Ruba Nadda, brings her latest film, "Cairo Time", to the festival this year as part of the Special Presentations program.

The film follows Juliette, a successful American magazine editor with grown children who arrives in Cairo to meet her husband, Mark, a UN refugee camp worker only to be told he is unavoidably delayed in Gaza. Mark sends his devoted and long-time friend, Tareq, (Alexander Siddig), a retired Egyptian police officer; to pick her up and an undeniable mutual attraction occurs for both.

Juliette leans on Tareq as she discovers the streets of Cairo are not safe for single women who don't cover their heads. Tareq, who is single, is still suffering the pain of a prior relationship ending. Is it love or an intense friendship born from necessity and proximity? As they attempt to resist each other, the attraction grows. The brief love affair between Juliette and Tareq catches them both completely off guard, especially considering the intense loyalty they both feel for Mark.

After seeing this film, you understand what the makers intend to do with including the word 'time' in the title. It not just refers to the time and distance to Cairo, which is so beautifully presented, but the opportunities missed and realized because of languid amounts of time or too little of it. Juliette's husband is continually delayed for his arrival in Cairo, propelling her and Tareq to develop a stronger and more passionate relationship.

Class and gender differences in Egypt are also deftly explored here, Juliette witnessing the vast differences in the experience of the uneducated girls who are poor and work hardest, while Tareq, an educated male who after retiring from the police force casually owns a coffee shop that he can close on a moment's notice if he doesn't feel like being there. The girls who weave rugs for pennies, do not own their own time – an idea Juliette bristles under and Tareq accepts with no shame.

As their romance grows, we realize this is more than a typical ‘bored housewife has a vacation fling' for Clarkson's character. Clarkson is excellent in this role and Siddig shines and more than holds his own against the more experienced Clarkson. The chemistry between them is undeniable. While the plot is thin and it occasionally feels like a promotional film for Egyptian tourism, it is an enjoyable film that avoids obvious clichés.