Monday, May 3, 2010

SFIFF: Cairo Time

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

Middle-aged women love Patricia Clarkson, if the conversation between friends in the Balcony Bar at the Kabuki just prior to the screening of Cairo Time Thursday night is any indication:

"Oh, I just adore Patricia Clarkson."

"Oh, yes, me too. She's just fabulous!"


That last comment was not about Clarkson's looks. That bon mot came from a dog that one of the women had brought along to the theater. Now, I have to imagine that the dog was some kind of service animal, but just what kind I can't be sure, as it was a small, shaggy, black, lap dog. But, it must have been a Patricia Clarkson fan too, as not a peep was heard from it throughout the film. Perhaps it was as enraptured by the film as the rest of the audience seemed to be.

I jokingly referred to Cairo Time as Patricia Clarkson Gets Her Groove Back since the plot kind of sounds like the story of a woman finding passion in a foreign land. Thankfully, the film is much more subtle than that. Clarkson plays Juliette, a magazine writer married to a man who works for the U.N. Their children grown and out on their own, she comes to Cairo for a vacation with her husband, but finds he's stuck in skirmish in the Gaza Strip, with no real idea of when he'll be able to come to Cairo. Stuck in the foreign city alone, but not one to stay in her hotel room, she explores the city on her own, and with a local man named Tareq (Alexander Siddig), a former colleague of her husband's.

The set-up lends itself to many cliches, but the movie is able to avoid most of them. Clarkson and Siddiq are perfect in their roles, and the city of Cairo is almost a third character in the movie, alive and vibrant.

Patricia Clarkson and director Rubba Nadda were on hand after the showing to answer a few questions. Clarkson, looking quite chic in a black trench coat and black skirt, jokingly kicked up her heels telling us they had just come from having cocktail. She's quite vibrant in person, and just glows with beauty and good humor.

Rubba Nadda, who is Canadian, and of Arabic descent, discussed a trip to Cairo shee took as a teenager that stayed with her and was the ultimate influence on the film. As a result, she insisted the movie actually be shot there, as opposed to an "easier" location, such as Morocco. Clarkson had nothing but good things to say of the city, and noted that when the shoot was over and it was time to leave, those bags were the hardest bags she's ever had to pack.

The Q&A was opened up to the audience, and the most interesting exchange was probably when a woman asked about some possible naivety that the character Juliette may have demonstrated by walking the streets of Cairo in breezy "Western" outfits, showing bare arms and legs. Clarkson insisted that a lot of thought was put into what she wore in the film, and that nothing she wore would actually be considered scandalous. The director also chimed in that it's a big misconception that all the women in Middle Eastern countries are completely covered up, and that women there wear all kinds of clothing.

This is ultimately an interesting point within the context of the film, as Juliette is literally followed and groped by groups of men during her initial walks alone through the city. When she tells this to Tareq, he replies it is because she is a very beautiful woman, and makes no mention of her clothing. Apparently, the luminosity of Patricia Clarkson transcends all cultures.

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