Tue September 21, 2010
Worth the time
By John DeSando, "It's Movie Time," "Cinema Classics," and "On the Marquee"
Cairo Time is the kind of international film I have time for, wait for as a matter of fact. It provides the romance of a foreign culture and the uncertainty of love, that itself waits for all men.
Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) is waiting in Cairo for her UN husband to return from Gaza, where he runs a refugee camp. Time is the operative motif, where the Arab culture waits patiently and the Canadian woman becomes impatient as time goes by (think of the waiting refugees in the film Casablanca).
She is as serene as the sunsets over the iconic pyramids?solid, faithful, unbending.
Her guide, Tareque, sent by her husband to take care of her, represents the unknown of the mid-east, a subtly romantic man who himself waits while the American acclimates herself and falls for him in ways quiet and slow. The incremental growth of this illicit longing is the film's strength as it is not overpowering or precipitate. It follows a course of its own in its own good time.
While I am usually in favor of minimalism, and this film is a sterling example of it, sometimes nothing really happens, at least in the case of dramatic conflict. Cairo Time never capitalizes on the conflict possibilities as in the case of Juliette's ill-fated trip to Gaza?here is a chance to ramp up the action, but the best that happens is a brief brush with the military and a letter delivered between local lovers. Although I was excited by the possibilities, nothing happens.
However, the ending is a delight if you hope this sophisticated film won't follow formula. It doesn't. In fact, the most exciting part of the film may come in the last moments as we see the fate of the triangle. Not in the hackneyed Hollywood tradition, the outcome is satisfactory for those of us who know the way such a conflict usually plays out in real life.
My hopes for a realistic romanticism are fulfilled: In the Seinfeld tradition, nothing really happens. However, as is evident from Seinfeld's success, everything does happen; you just have to look for it.
John DeSando co-hosts It's Movie Time, Cinema Classics, and On the Marquee for WCBE 90.5. The shows can be heard streaming at http://publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/ppr/index.shtml and on demand at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/arts.artsmain Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com