PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Reviews

'Cairo Time': These New Modern Things

In Cairo Time, Juliette means to care, but she seems rather unfit for it.


Cairo Time

Director: Ruba Nadda
Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Alexander Siddig, Amina Annabi, Elena Anaya, Tom McCamus
Rated: NR
Year: 2009
US date: 2010-08-06 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

"I haven't had a cigarette since I was a teenager." As soon as Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) rejects the offer of a smoke from her handsome new acquaintance, you know where this trope is headed. Alone in a foreign land, she has time to look back on her life and choices, her loss of youthful adventures. And yes, she'll have regrets, as well as a yearning for cigarettes.

At the start of Cairo Time, Juliette's just arrived in Cairo from New York to meet her husband Mark (Tom McCamus), a dedicated UN official. He's detained in Gaza, where he's in charge of a refugee camp now affected by fighting, and so she's picked up at the airport by Tareq (Alexander Siddig). The men, she knows, used to work together, but Tareq has since left the international service corps and taken up his father's coffee shop, which explains why he's in town and has enough time to look after his old friend's wife. "I've heard so much about you," Juliette says politely and probably truthfully. Tareq answers in kind.

The fact that they do know at least a little bit about each other hints at the sort of experiences Mark has led with each, and he looms unseen between the two, a presence off-screen when he makes a phone call to Juliette's hotel room, or "sends word" to Tareq, who immediately shows up in her lobby. Mark's absence -- and how they talk about him -- also tells you something Asked why this is her first visit to the area where her husband has essentially spent a lifetime, Juliette is vague. She had kids and work. She edits a magazine called Vous. When she mentions she might write an article on Egyptian street children, Tareq, a close observer who can't have missed that her every outfit is expensive and lovely, wonders how such a story might interest her readers. "We deal with social issues, women's issues," she explains. "These children are left to fend for themselves and no one seems to care."

Juliette means to care, but she seems rather unfit for it. This makes her at once an exotic object for Tareq and a familiar subject for the film's Western viewers, out of place and, at least in her own mind, open to "exploring," As she looks on Tareq, she misses what he might reflect of her, except as he appreciates and comes to want her. As he fulfills her desires and resembles the other life, the one she missed when she gave up cigarettes, she doesn't quite have to see him for who he is, much less the stunning landscapes or teeming marketplaces -- which are gorgeous, certainly, but also too metaphorical here.

Some of these meaningful sites directly manifest Juliette's insularity, and yes, her rather abject Americanness. Determined to get out of the hotel room on her own, she wanders through the city streets, only to find that men leer at her and bump up against her and follow her like a pack, the camera close on their bright eyes. At last, the soundtrack music having achieved a crescendo along with the accumulating images of men and more men, the sequence pauses. She finds refuge inside a shop and the elderly clerk, his face weary and kind, shoos the pack away as she sits to catch her breath. Juliette's surprise makes her seem both naïve and forgivable. Because she's earnest in her ignorance and because, really, she didn’t harbor this stereotype of Arab men that the film presents as if she "should have" known.

She learns another lesson from Kathryn (Elena Anaya), a younger women whose boyfriend also works for the UN. They share a laugh over other women who imitate a belly dancer at an embassy event (Juliette calls them "petroleum wives," so you know their affluence is different from hers). During an afternoon in the White Desert, the landscape provides a sensational backdrop to Kathryn's confession that she almost left her man for an "Arab lover." As Juliette looks loyal and forlorn, the younger woman smiles, "You’ve been happy, that's all that matters."

But of course, Juliette's less and less sure that she's "been happy," or that she quite understands what that means. She spends more time with Tareq, learning to smoke a water pipe (more mysterious than cigarettes, anyway). He takes her on the Nile Ride ("Once you've tasted the Nile," he offers as if he's an actor in a tourism commercial, "You always come back") and to a carpet-weaving factory, where children work for hours on end to support their families. Juliette laments their lack of education and opportunity.

Juliette's concern is earnest but still, hers. It's "different" in Egypt, she keeps seeing, but that's all she sees. Her story has her rethinking her past, and beginning to imagine herself in another way, with alternatives instead of foregone conclusions. She also sees this possibility in Tareq (who has his own regrets, involving a broken heart long ago), but that doesn't make them a romantic match, despite their gazing into one another's eyes. It only means she sees herself again and again, wherever she looks.

5

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.