Very few of us have the spare cash to take an intercontinental trip for recreational purposes. Luckily, writer-director Ruba Nadda has taken the liberty to spare you that expense and squanders the funds herself. Cairo Time is a goldmine for anyone eager to do some sightseeing. The problem is, Cairo Time isn’t supposed to be an area profile; it’s supposed to be a story and in that department, it’s seriously lacking.
Wouldn’t it suck to travel all the way from the US to Egypt to hang out with your husband, only to get there and find out he won’t make it? That’s what happens to Juliette (Patricia Clarkson). She ditches her job as a magazine editor to meet up with her husband, Mark (Tom McCamus), a UN employee stationed in Gaza, in Cairo for a three-week vacation. Unfortunately, upon landing in Egypt, Juliette’s greeted by her hubby’s former co-worker Tareq (Alexander Siddig) because Mark’s stuck in Gaza.
Initially she’s concerned and frustrated. Not only does she fear for Mark’s safety, but Juliette isn’t one to wait patiently in her hotel room; she wants to go out and explore. The trouble with a woman exploring Cairo solo? The men know no boundaries and often invade your personal space. That’s when she flees into Tareq’s arms. The two become buddy-buddy, and Tareq assumes the role of her unofficial tour guide and ultimately, an emotional stand-in for her husband.
Cairo Time is a snoozer from the moment it begins. Upon meeting Juliette, you’re nearly lulled to sleep by Clarkson’s infamously gentle drone. What’s worse than an actress with an all too soothing voice? An actress with a syrupy voice in a bland role. There is nothing interesting about Juliette whatsoever. No matter how much you crave a sense of intensity, she’ll never become that distraught wife terribly concerned that her husband is caught in the midst of a violent outburst. Whether she’s bored, happy, sad, tired or confused, she’s still just a simple American woman in Cairo, nothing more.
Juliette’s new Egyptian friends are just as uninspiring. First and foremost, there’s Tareq (Alexander Siddig) who offers to escort her around town out of compassion. Their banter has less value than a tour guide leading a mass of photo-snapping travelers, which is devastating since they are supposed to share some sort of romantic connection. Their characters may not have chemistry, but Clarkson unintentionally manages to pull off the stupid American tourist, while he plays the part of the clandestinely mocking tour guide well.
It only gets worse as we go down the roster. At least Tareq is on hand to provide Cairo Time with a hint of plot, but the rest serve no purpose. First we meet Yasmeen (Amina Annabi), the supposed love of Tareq’s life. You’d think that detail would hold quite a bearing upon Tareq, but no. In fact, her only function is to expand the scenery selection and give the starring duo a reason to head to Alexandria. Kathryn (Elena Anaya), a woman Juliette meets at a UN formal function, finds herself in a similar situation. Her only purpose? To give the filmmakers an excuse to show us the White Desert.
And now we’re left with Jameelah (Mona Hala), a character who at least creates suspense. A foolhardy Juliette opts to hop on a Gaza bus to try and find Mark herself. That’s where she meets Jameelah. The two have a tiresome get-to-know-you conversation, but then the bus is pulled over by men with guns. Yeah! Suspense! Don’t get ahead of yourself. Jameelah desperately stuffs a letter in Juliette’s hand and begs her to deliver it to her lover. Could we have an actual story here? Again, don’t get ahead of yourself. This side-story hits a wall just as hard as the rest.
Cairo Time’s sole asset is the scenery. Sadly someone forgot to inform Nadda that a pretty picture doesn’t justify the creation of a narrative film. A documentary? Maybe. But what we’re given is more a photo album showing us Patricia Clarkson’s trip to Egypt. What’s in it for us? Nothing.