Ruba Nadda's "Cairo Time" is a film seeking poetry and not quite finding it.
Shot on location in Egypt, it has the setting. With Patricia Clarkson as a visiting wife left alone by her waylaid husband, and Alexander Siddig as her host and companion, it has the roles.
But the slow pace and elegant mood of "Cairo Time" fails to summon any magic, and this film - a kind of Middle East version of "Lost in Translation" - passes with merely a picturesque tick-tock.
Juliette (Clarkson) is a Canadian fashion magazine editor who we meet as she exits a plane in Cairo. Her husband, a UN official working in Gaza named Mark, isn't there to greet her. For much of the film, he won't even be a disembodied voice on the phone; when Juliette checks in with Mark, his side of the conversation isn't heard.
Instead, he sends a friend and former colleague, Tareq (Siddig), to greet Juliette and show her the city.
Handsome and enigmatic, Siddig ("Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," "Syriana") has an interesting presence that deserves better material. Clarkson, one of the finest character actors around, plays Juliette with great poise - perhaps too much. At times she seems almost medicated.
Juliette is open to Cairo and takes in the city, sometimes alone and sometimes with Tareq. She walks the White Desert and goes boating on the Nile with Tareq. The encounters throughout Cairo are full of discovery and cultural education, and Juliette slides naturally into the exotic city's pace.
A deeper relationship gradually forms between the two and a question of how far they'll take it becomes the film's muted drama. But their lack of chemistry and Nadda's flat script keep things languid and unemotional. The scenery is enchanting and it's clear Nadda was inspired to make the film from the beauty of Cairo. She and cinematographer Luc Montpellier succeed in fashioning a graceful postcard to the city, but a story, too, would have been nice.
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and smoking.
Starring Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig. Directed by Ruba Nadda. Rated PG