Clarkson, Siddiq masterful in rich ‘Cairo Time’

Posted Oct. 21, 2010, at 6:50 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:50 p.m.

CAIRO TIME, written and directed by Ruba Nadda, 89 minutes, rated PG. Show Friday night only, Union Street Brick Church, 7:30 p.m., Bangor.

What’s so rare and great about Ruba Nadda’s “Cairo Time” is that it has such confidence in its story, it’s in no rush to tell it quickly. It knows what’s coming, it trusts its characters to explore and reveal what’s coming, and so it unfolds naturally with nothing manufactured to push it forward. Nadda’s script and her talented cast are more than enough to absorb the viewer without giving in to the typical Hollywood cliches so many romantic movies court.

This is, first and foremost, an exercise in restraint.

At just under 90 minutes, “Cairo Time” is lean, but not slight — illusion is afoot. In spite of its short running time, the film feels rich and full. You admire Nadda for holding back when lesser directors would have given audiences the mainstream movie that they’ve been trained to expect.

There’s a lot to admire here, particularly because a great deal of the film could have gone the way of other love stories that involve a husband and a wife separated due to work, and how the introduction of a third party — in this case a man — can complicate the proceedings immeasurably.

Shot on location in Cairo, the film is the story of Juliette (Patricia Clarkson, delivering a beautiful performance that’s armed with the sort of grace and intelligence fans have come to expect), a magazine editor who comes to Cairo to meet her husband, who works for the United Nations and is having a hell of a time of it in the Gaza Strip.

Their meeting is endlessly delayed, but Juliette, not one to sit in her hotel suite when she has the thriving city of Cairo at her feet, takes to the streets, where she eventually finds herself befriending Tareq (Alexander Siddig), the tall, dark, handsome stranger who picked her up at the airport when she first arrived. When Juliette’s husband continues to be delayed, she and Tareq grow closer. They take a boat ride on the Nile. They play chess at a men’s club. They dine together, smoke together, drink together.

How far will they take their relationship? It’s this unknown that gives the movie its undercurrent of suspense, particularly because you like each character so much that you want them to be together. But will they be? Let’s leave that for the screen.

What has to be discussed are the performances, beginning with Clarkson’s, who is one of my favorite actresses. The way she evokes Juliette’s personal reawakening is done so subtly — a throwaway smile, a sideways glance that evokes a mystery, the increasingly self-conscious way she holds herself when she’s around Tareq as their bond tightens — is a master class in acting. The loneliness she portrays is palpable, but because of her character’s tenacity, she pushes through it in ways that reflect Juliette’s inner strength as well as her inner turmoil. So, yes, to say the least, her Juliette is complex.

Siddig also maneuvers through a role that could have found him tearing off his shirt, baring his chest and throwing Juliette down on a bed. But since he understands this culture and its complications, what he brings to the screen is the restraint mentioned earlier. “Cairo Time” is a lovely time at the movies, so once again, thanks to the River City Cinema Society for finding it and bringing it to local audiences. Grade: A-

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

With the Nov. 19 release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I,” Warner Bros. has assembled two new releases of the “Potter” series in Ultimate Edition DVD and Blu-ray versions. Suffice to say that the movies look and sound better than ever — but while each volume does have its share of additional extras, none of them is extensive or interesting. Go into these movies knowing that. Still, since it’s the movie that will matter to most, each is reviewed below as such.

“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” Ultimate Edition DVD, Blu-ray

This time out, the childlike whimsy of the two previous Potters is dead, replaced by an encroaching loss of innocence and a foreboding sense of darkness. The result is a new punch of life to the series. Bleeding into every corner of this accomplished third installment is a greater presence of evil. That may make for less jaunty entertainment, but it also makes for greater measures of depth and intrigue. Unlike its predecessors, this Potter doesn’t feel pressed to satisfy audiences with kitschy thrills and wide-eyed wonderment. Director Alfonso Cuaron makes a clear statement that kiddie time is over. It’s time to get down to the real meat of the story and deal with the ugliness Harry must face as he, Ron and Hermione are vaulted deeper into Rowling’s uneasy mystery. Rated PG. Grade: A-

“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” Ultimate Edition DVD, Blu-ray

The first film in the series to mark a turning point in terms of quality of direction and storytelling, the movie is little more than a bridge, connecting the three previous Potters to the final installments yet to come with the core of the movie steeped in the Twiwizard Tournament, in which Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) mysteriously finds himself competing. Elements can be harrowing, but there’s no denying that too much of “Goblet” is just filler, stringing us along to the all-important ending, when Harry faces in person the man responsible for murdering his parents and who has long been determined to kill him — the vicious Voldemort, who is played by an unrecognizable Ralph Fiennes with the sort of sauce and vigor that almost makes you forget that this overly long, episodic movie was, upon its release, the weakest yet of the series. Rated PG-13. Grade: B-

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s film reviews appear Fridays in Lifestyle, and his video movie previews appear Wednesdays in the Lifestyle section of bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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