New York editor Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) travels alone to Cairo to meet her husband, who works for the United Nations in Gaza. When hubby gets stuck across the border, Tareq (Alexander Siddig), his former bodyguard, steps in as Juliette’s chaperone.
Fluent in English and supposedly highly literate, Tareq actually says things like, “They say once you have drunk the water of the Nile, you always come back,” to which Juliette purrs, “Here’s to coming back” — a not-so-subtle reference to her own groove.
Cairo Time spends a lot of time putting Clarkson in contrived situations to hammer home the culture-shock theme. Would a real journalist be so naïve as to not understand that her body — identifiably Western and comparatively exposed — would draw unwelcome attention to itself on the streets of a Muslim country? Juliette’s Stupid Tourist episodes lead to loneliness and humiliation, which in turn prompt her to seek out Tareq, who is always up for long walks and longer conversations — think Before Sunset, weighed down by awkward articulation of the central couple’s cultural differences.
Happily, writer-director Ruba Nadda’s emphasis on body language ultimately trumps the clumsiness of her script. Intimate lensing turns tiny gestures — a hand on the small of a back, a friendly kiss that misses its target — into major landmarks, and the chemistry between the two lead characters sustains the movie’s jet-lagged, heat-dazed spell. When 50-year-old Clarkson nervously steps back to bask in Tareq’s adoration, she blushes like a teenage girl with her first crush.