A careerist married to a careerist, Patricia Clarkson’s harried magazine editor Juliette jets to Egypt to meet up with her UN-official husband (Tom McCamus, eventually) for a much-needed vacay. Alas, he gets waylaid, sending his former bodyguard Tareq (Alexander Siddig) to fetch her. Sparks, naturally, ensue: Tareq bewitches her with Middle East exoticisms (“They say that if you drink water from the Nile, you will always come back”), but is careful not to go too far with his ex-boss’ wife, no matter how in need of groove reclamation she may be.
This small-scale romance, ushered into existence in part by Atom Egoyan, of all people, lightly but confidently peers into Arab-American relations. On one hand is utopia: Juliette and Tareq never once see a socio-political reason not to fall in love. Still, the rest of the world isn’t quite as perfect. Egyptian horndogs trail Juliette through the streets, border patrolmen prove as notoriously dickish as their reputations and when Juliette gets too comfy with her surroundings, Tareq is quick to point out that two American tourists were recently killed outside their hotel. Why, she asks? “Because they were Americans.”
Cairo Time benefits greatly from an unusally clusterfucked setup. Juliette’s husband isn’t just errant; he’s stuck in the Gaza Strip. Still, from what little we see, their relationship is more on the non- side of the continuum. Still (again), one shouldn’t trash the hopes and emotions of the lonely Tareq, who slowly reveals an intense longing for the regal, open-minded and increasingly bored woman he’s nice enough to schlep around.
Clarkson is her usual self, coasting on her subtle charms, but Siddig is a real revelation. One of Hollywood’s go-to Middle Easterners (in Syriana, Kingdom of Heaven and Clash of the Titans), he conveys his emerging passions through body language. At first cucumber-cool with autumn-years Cary Grant charm, he gradually loses control of his body as he realizes he and his co-star will have to keep things Brief Encounter-style unconsummated. That Cairo Time has as much heft as it does is due to actors, not the so-so filmmaking.