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In Cairo on her own as she waits for her husband, Juliette finds herself caught in a whirlwind romance with his friend Tareq, a retired cop. As Tareq escorts Juliette around the city, they find themselves in the middle of a brief affair that catches them both unawares. Written by
Pusan International Film Festival
I've known Alexander Siddig from playing Dr. Bashir on "Star Trek; Deep Space Nine". I've seen Patricia Clarkson in "Jumanji" and "Vicky Christina Barcelona". Both these two actors unite to give us a very touching love story set in the background of Cairo.
Egypt is a timeless land that has had history's touch upon it even as it enters the new millennium. People's lives are bound to the countryside as well as the old cities modernized with technology. Ruba Nadda, a young Canadian film maker, has set her newest story in the city of Cairo. It concerns the clash of two very different cultures, and how the past and present collide to form such a layered city as Cairo. As well as showing us wonderful scenes within the city, we are given exceptional cinematography of the surrounding countryside. The White Desert and the Pyramids stand out, etched out in the land, seemingly by giants who preceded modern civilization.
The film follows Juliette, a middle-aged woman arriving in Egypt. She would have been with her husband, but he is away on a mission for the UN. Her two children have grown up and have moved into adult phases of their lives. She is left to see the city by herself, aided by an old friend of her husband's: the middle-aged Egyptian Tariq, a retired policeman who now owns a coffee shop in Cairo. He helps Juliette out of his friendship to the absent Mark, and Juliette is intrigued by this soft-spoken man. Their feelings inevitably grow into affection, but the gradual steps taken to that stage is what makes the movie so tender and well made. Juliette's explorations of Cairo and the people that live within its shadow give us a view into the foreign culture that lies waiting to be discovered.
If Juliette must carry the movie, she is supported by some well-made characters. Tariq is clearly the prominent of these, but there is also Yasmeen, the former love interest of Tariq who wants to rekindle the relationship, and Kathryn, a kindly woman who leads Juliette on a trip in the White Desert outside of the city. And of course, there is the ever absent Mark, who is continually held away from his wife.
To say that this is a sentimental piece that tugs on heart-strings is redundant. However, it has a life of its own beyond the stereotypes of the genre, brought about by the fantastic chemistry between Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig. The two of them are professional actors and give us a love story that rivals the epic romance "Out of Africa" or the low-key "Lost in Translation".
Ruba Nadda also provides us with a well-written script that feels natural to the actors' tongues and the audience's ears. The mood of the film seems whimsical and light-hearted, especially during the scenes between the two leads, but there is a serious undertone played into the film. Questions are silently presented, aimed against such themes as love, fidelity, culture, and loneliness. Both characters are certainly lonely: Tariq has isolated himself from those that loved him, withdrawing into a kind of politeness that seems to discourage intimacy, while Juliette is isolated from her friends, her work, children, and her husband. Both need human contact, even as both must come to terms with their lives and what has come out of it all.
This small Canadian production has received a number of positive reviews, and has also won the Best Canadian Feature Award at the Toronto Film Festival. While I have certainly not seen all the Canadian films this year, I can definitely say that this was worthy of such an award. English Canadian cinema is so over-shadowed by Hollywood that one wonders if such cinema exists when compared to Quebec's film industry. However, once in a while, one can find such gems as this production, and be content to know that being Canadian means laying claim to truly great films such as this one.
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