Whoever said that talking about politics, religion or sex on a blind date was a bad idea could just have easily applied that rule to movies. Or maybe like Peter Venkman said, it’s more of a guideline than a rule. I caught two movies recently that were the flip side of the same coin: independently financed romantic dramas ripe with political intrigue, both written and directed by women under the age of 40. Let’s see Blockbuster Video devote a shelf to that genre.
Cairo Time (2009)
Directed by Ruba Nadda
Written by Ruba Nadda
Produced by Daniel Iron, David Collins
Ruba Nadda was born in Montréal, Canada to a Syrian father and a Palestinian mother. She first visited the city known as “The Mother of the World” at the age of 16 with her family. After graduating Tisch School of the Arts in New York, Nadda went on to write and direct 16 short films and one feature, Sabah, in 2005. Also that year, the filmmaker arrived on the idea for a new script. Determined to capture life in Cairo as she’d experienced it over the years, Cairo Time focused on a 50-year-old American named Juliette who arrives to visit her diplomat husband, who she learns has been detained working in a refugee camp across the border in Gaza. Passing time in an exotic but bewildering city, Juliette forms a relationship with her husband’s former security officer, an Arab named Tareq.
Nadda got her script to producer Daniel Iron of Toronto-based Foundry Films. Equally enthused by what they read were Christine Vachon and Charles Pugilese of New York indie stalwart Killer Films, whose stamp on movies from Party Monster to Mildred Pierce usually indicates something different. The filmmaker shielded her producers from the logistical challenges that awaited in Cairo, but in a preview of coming attractions, the production was barred because Canada did not have a co-production treaty with Egypt. Ireland did, so Nadda put Iron in contact with producer David Collins, whose Dublin-based Samson Films had helped the Oscar winning Once reach the screen. Within two years, the Canadian/Irish co-production raised financing.
Before I express my ardor for Cairo Time, I’ll admit to hitting pause on my MacBook three times during the 90 minute running time. I wandered away to YouTube for some southern rock and videos of a skateboarding bulldog named Tillman. If I haven’t completely squandered my credibility here, I’ll add that I finished Cairo Time in one sitting, which is like professional critics saying they gave a movie an 8 out of 10. Collaborating with cinematographer Luc Montpellier — who shot most of Nadda’s short films — and editor Teresa Hannigan, the major reason to see Cairo Time is its luscious texture. Deliberate and sensual without having much to do with sex, the picture immerses us in the clamor, the color and the cadences of Cairo without feeling like tourist bureau propaganda.
Cairo Time conveys so much more about its world with silence — Patricia Clarkson closing her eyes in weariness, or Alexander Sidding, in a career making performance, politely directing Clarkson’s character through the city — than most romances are able or willing to with pages of dialogue. The film is like a splash of water in the heat; refreshing and vivid. I got a better sense of what life in Cairo was like than I could short of hopping a flight there, particularly how similar it was to any other metropolis. The events of the Arab spring only make the picture more relevant now than when it was released October 2009 in Canada and August of the following year in the States. Ruba Nadda has a passionate, self assured voice I’m looking forward to hearing again.
Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 3,832 users: 59% for Cairo Time
Metacritic “Metascore” average among 26 leading critics: 67 for Cairo Time
What do you say?