Lowdown: A Western woman falls in love with Egypt.
Although I have lived most of my life near Egypt I hardly got to explore it, a fact I tend to regret now that I live on the other side of the world. Thus when I received a recommendation for an English speaking film discussing the Egyptian way of life I went for it: It ignited an old flame in me, the memories of Friday afternoons spent at my uncle's place watching Israel's then only TV channel broadcast its regular weekly Egyptian made film. These tended to be silly films of poor standards, but they had their own Bollywood like character and thus their own unique charm. The fact Israeli TV has moved on since is more than a bit of a shame.
Cairo Time tells of an American woman (Patricia Clarkson) coming to visit her UN husband in Cairo. Only that the husband is stuck in the Gaza Strip and the only one to help her sort the situation out is the husband's former co-worker and now the manager of a men only Cairo cafe (Deep Space 9's Alexander Siddig). At first, Clarkson finds herself in a direct collision course with the hustle and bustle of Cairo's culture, but with a little help from the friend she gets by. She has the option to seclude herself among other Western wives that just hate being stuck in Egypt, but instead she chooses to embrace Egyptian culture and experience it as much as she can. She falls in love with it, in the process falling for Siddig.
Make no mistake about it: On paper, Cairo Time is a romantic impossible love triangle story we've seen a trillion times before. That, however, is just a minor aspect of the film; the main agenda behind Cairo Time is to expose the viewer, in particular the Western viewer, to the charms of Egyptian culture. Cairo Time is like a tourist ad for Egypt, only that it doesn't cut corners and doesn't make everything look like a postcard: it shows some nasty things about Egypt just as it shows the beautiful ones, leaving it up to the viewer to decide if the pros outweigh the cons. Me, I don't care that much about the weighing; I just enjoyed the experience.
Slow paced and encumbered by Clarkson rather getting on my nerves, I enjoyed Cairo Time for the glimpse it provided me into another world.
Best scene: Clarkson attempts to take matters into her own hands and takes a bus to Gaza. The bus gets boarded by Israeli soldiers who don't mind invading Clarkson's private matters and, eventually, send the bus back with all of its passengers. I liked the scene because as an ex Israeli and an ex Israeli soldier I am used to the portrayal of Israeli soldiers as the angels of pure good, making it truly interesting to see the view from the other side.
Overall: Far from a perfect film, Cairo Time is still quite an illuminating film. 3 out of 5 stars.