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‘Cairo Time’

by Giovanni Fazio

When you’re young, flirting is an activity that dangles real promise, the possibility that with the right chemistry, a hook-up may happen shortly thereafter. But when you’re older — married with kids, say, or just burned often enough to be sensible — the flirt becomes more its own reward. The adult flirt doesn’t necessarily require consummation, but simply an acknowledgement of mutual attraction, that in another time, another place, it could have happened between us.

It’s the slightest of infidelities, and a reassuring caress of the ego, but while a casual flirt at a party may pass as softly as a summer breeze, the more sustained ones run the risk of developing into a full-blown affair, with all the heart-wrenching, relationship-busting drama that comes with them.

“Cairo Time” zooms in precisely on that line where the casual — in this case, holiday — flirt starts to get serious, and it does so perfectly. It’s a small, low-key film, mostly concerned with two people who don’t express the thing that is on their minds, and yet Toronto-based director Ruba Nadda handles it with a warm, gentle touch, creating a portrait of almost falling in love that just about anyone will recognize, even if the film is being marketed as solidly chick-flick material.

Cairo Time
Rating
Director Ruba Nadda
Run Time 90 minutes
Language English, Egyptian Arabic (subtitled in English and Japanese)

Patricia Clarkson, who steals almost every movie she’s in these days, finally gets a leading role here, and she carries it off effortlessly, with her slow-burn cool and sly humor filling out every scene. (And at this point she’s pretty much the poster girl for entering your 50s with sexuality intact.) Clarkson plays Juliette Grant, an American staying in Cairo while she waits for her U.N.-employed husband Mark (Tom McCamus) to show up for a long-delayed reunion. Mark is held up with pressing work in the Gaza Strip, so he sends Tareq (Alexander Siddig), his recently retired U.N. friend, to check in on her and show her around town.

The two are friendly but formal at first, but the stifling boredom as Mark doesn’t show, combined with her inability to wander the streets alone without being harassed by the local men, leaves Juliette restless and calling on Tareq again and again. (Or is it just the sultry 37-degree heat?) He happily obliges, showing her the sights and being a perfect gentleman.

Tareq turns out to be such a charmer — and Siddig could give Clooney a run for wearing a tieless suit and stubble to perfection — that it’s hard to believe he’s single, but single he is, a fact that comes more to the forefront of Juliette’s mind as the pair’s meetings become more relaxed, intimate, with a touch here and there. A visit to the Pyramids of Giza -which Juliette had been waiting to do with her husband — becomes a silent betrayal, and we watch and wait as Juliette discovers her heart is not fixed, and for Tareq to decide whether to make a move or not.

“Cairo Time” is a slight film, but what it does exceptionally well is to convey the kind of spell a holiday can cast; removed from everyday routine, the allure of new possible lives — especially ones in “exotic” locations — can prove irresistible. Does the spell prove life-changing or simply an interlude? “Cairo Time” measures it out in the minutes a kiss is postponed.