Fall in Love at First Sight with ‘Cairo Time’

… And with its stars, Alexander Siddig and Patricia Clarkson. Oh, and positively with its filmmaker Ruba Nadda. Come to think of it, there is NOTHING unromantic about this upcoming film, opening August 6th in a city near you or, get how easy this is, ON-Demand through IFC! There is nothing that isn’t guaranteed to make you yearn for a trip to Cairo, for a meeting with a man like Tareq, for being as sultrily calm a woman as Juliette, for having the talent of the beautifully well-spoken Ruba Nadda. If I sound enchanted, I was – at TFF earlier this year, when I first saw the film and fell in love – and I am, after interviewing Nadda, Clarkson and Siddig for elan Magazine. Get the full interview by clicking here.

But some of the moments that were left out of the piece for elan I’ll share with you here on The Ajnabee. Like how the music of this film plays such an important part in my life these days… So much so that when my computer’s Hard Drive crashed last week, among the few things I wrote down in the “Critically Important to Recover” box on the form my programmer provided me with before going into the computer to perform what he called “HD Open Heart Surgery” were 3 ITunes tracks from the film: ‘Sar A Lay’ by El Tanbura, ‘Ahwak’ by Abdel Halim Hafez and ‘Alf Leyla, Wa Leyla’ by Oum Kalthoum. That’s what I call a serious priority now! And fortunately, though I have not been backing up the revisions on my book manuscript in the last six months, I did back up those tracks on a CD I play over and over while at home. Really, it’s that good!

The music, in fact, feels so important to the story because, Nadda explained “I grew up with Arabic music and movies, and Oum Kalthoum is like the Mother of Egypt. As Abdel Halim Hafez is the Father of Egypt. Getting those two songs was a nightmare. It’s the Middle East. Order as we know it here does not exist, is not how you would think it works there. We couldn’t figure out who owned the rights to the songs and finally we tracked something down and my producer had to pay in cash for the rights and got a paragraph, a contract in Arabic, which I sent to my father and asked “Dad is this right?” and he said “I think so… It’s very vague”. In Cairo it was a battle, there’s like 11 different levels of bureaucracy and just because level three says you’ve got the OK, level ten is like “No, we don’t think so today.” And the songs are not on the soundtrack CD because the contract stated that we could only use the music over the course of five minutes and only in the movie.”

I personally find the film momentous. It’s the one single work of art in the last few years that has truly awakened in me a yearn to fall in love. But not the mundane, everyday kind of love, the truly romantic, pregnant with unexpressed feelings version of it, from the classics like ‘Wuthering Heights’ and the likes… I watched ‘Cairo Time’ twice at Tribeca, once at a press screening and a second time at its premiere, after interviewing the stunning Clarkson, the glowing and beautiful Nadda and the man with the sparkle in his eyes, Siddig himself, on the red carpet. I even bought a ticket for that second screening, sat in the very top right corner of the theater and cherished every moment of my adventure. The film hit me differently both times, new scenes became emotional for me, but yet the falling in love part, with Cairo and Siddig’s character Tareq, stayed constant. So much so that all I have to do is hear the music featured in the trailer below and I yearn once again… You know that I’ll be in the theater this weekend, watching the film at the very least one more time!!

One of the journalists at our roundtable this past week, said the following “The film may not end up bridging the gap between East and West but we finally see it in a quieter, less angry way than usual and that’s wonderful. And I think for men who are lucky enough to see your film they might even begin to bridge the other divide, between the sexes, I hope.” To which Siddig replied “That’s quite something!” When the same journalist gushed “It was wonderful to see you in a lead role!” Siddig confessed “It’s wonderful training being a character actor and I’ve been a character actor now for twenty years, and it doesn’t get better than that. I’ve never had to repeat myself. For a very long time, until ‘Star Trek’ when I was doing that for so many years.” Never cocky or overly confident – you know, in that way that is so unattractive in most people you meet these days – Siddig was even downright modest about describing his background, relating to his work “There is always someone blacker than me, there’s always someone whiter than me. My father was a black African man. And my mother is a Liverpudlian woman… I look Arab by mistake.” This from a man who descends from royalty in Sudan. Inflating himself for the sake of appearing more interesting just isn’t this classy man’s style!

Patricia Clarkson shared that after the seven weeks she spent in Cairo to prepare and then shoot ‘Cairo Time’ she felt “Like I lived a whole life there, a whole secret life in Cairo. Almost like a spy life. Not an Angelina Jolie spy life, I wish… It was just so different, this whole set piece of my life, ’cause often when you’re shooting, you don’t get to take in a city. But because Cairo is the third lead of this film it is a major character, I really saw and I would sit in places for a whole day, so it wasn’t like I would just go to a place and say hello, or have a little meal there, I was in places for long periods of time and I really got to take it in and take in the people.”

Filmmaker Nadda shared the hurdles of filming in a city like Cairo “Just the permits are challenging, and there’s a censorship person from the government that gets assigned to your film and watches your every move. You never have control over your locations so we had to throw our actors into it and have it roll. I wanted to shoot everything in the script and there were some locations I was obsessed with capturing, that had never been shot before. There’s a coffee shop, Al-Fishawi Cafe which is open 24 hours a day and I literally talked my way into shooting there in Arabic.”

A self-described feminist, a quality she credits her Syrian father for having taught his three daughters, Nadda shared her insight on the sexual tension her character Juliette experiences when she ventures out to explore Cairo alone “In the Middle East, in Cairo especially, sexes are very segregated. Girls and boys do not interact since the age of four, it’s two very different cultures. It’s pent up from both sides, both sexes. When they see an attractive woman, whether she’s covered up or not, they cat-call. And a blonde, a red-head is unique. It’s not violent, it’s just appreciative. The first time, I traveled to Cairo with my father and my father, forget it, no man can approach. But my second time to Cairo I went with my sister and it was insane, we could not walk down a street without men. As a North American woman you cherish that automatic freedom of just walking down the street, but there it’s very segregated.” It was indeed that second trip which inspired ‘Cairo Time’ and Nadda added “I had a big trip to Cairo with my parents then I went back ten years later, with my sister. And everything that happened to Juliette in the film happened to us. We didn’t fall in love with an Arab man, but just the everyday…”

While Clarkson loved the people of Cairo she found most challenging “The city. It is a very dense city, 20 million people. It has no street lights, everyone walks out into moving traffic which it is famous for. I have never seen anything like it, with babies, children, they walk right out. They have such trust in their fellow men. it is remarkable. I’m not that trusting of my fellow men. Everything was challenging. There is Cairo time, everything is a negotiation, everything takes time. Like “Can I have a cup of coffee?” People disappear for ten minutes, and I’m thinking WOW, this is gonna be a great cup of coffee. OK, and then they come back. “Oh, your coffee, just a minute”… AHHHH!! We’re New Yorkers. Everything is slow, liquid, languid and yet it’s this fast paced, dense, loud city but there’s an internal calm in many of the citizens.”

And just as Siddig coyly confessed to me on the red carpet at TFF that his only preparation for the role of Tareq, the man who would steal all of our hearts at the festival, was “Looking into Patricia’s eyes…” Clarkson was also wonderfully complimentary of her co-star when she said “Everything you think about him is exactly true. He is everything a leading man should be and not just that he’s tall, dark and handsome. You know he arrived at this film, I could never ever have taken this journey without him, in a million years. I remember when I first saw him in the lobby I looked at Ruba and I just whispered “Thank you”. But he is also fiercely intelligent and gracious and kind and open and he was ready to fall, ready to embrace everything about this movie, and I relied on him, days when I had so much to do and had these very long complicated days, he was there. One thousand percent. We, me, Ruba, Alexander, we’ll just know each other for the rest of our lives.”

If the film fails to make you fall in love, with Tareq and Juliette, with Cairo, even with love itself – the kind that gives you butterflies deep inside your heart – then I think you should check your pulse… And if you wish to know just what those film-induced butterflies feel like, be in theaters this opening weekend. In NYC it will be at the IFC Center. For a full review, go to AVS TV’s blog. See you at the movies!

Images courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival – Trailer courtesy of IFC

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3 Responses to “Fall in Love at First Sight with ‘Cairo Time’”

  1. Suma:

    I recently watched the trailer for this film and eagerly looking forward to its release in London.


  2. Nina:

    Thank you for your comment Suma, I do hope you get to see this film soon! I’m totally obsessed with it and the romantic in me gets soothed every time I watch it…

  3. Suma:

    I have now seen it and totally in love with it; and haven’t stopped talking about it to friends. It brought back my own memories of being in Cairo on holiday :)