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Hollywood has never been kind to the colonized peoples of the Middle East (Arabs, Persians or Kurds). They have been portrayed as sexual predators (a stereotype most famously portrayed by silent film era heart-throb Rudolph Valentino in the 1921 film The Sheikh), terrorists (True Lies, The Siege, Rules of Engagement, Executive Decision, The Kingdom) and authoritarian parents (Towelhead, Babel). It is extremely difficult, as proven by professor Jack Shaheen in his book Reel Bad Arabs, to find a mainstream American film that portrays the population of the Middle East as anything other then backward, or unspeakably evil. It is left to independent films then, both American and otherwise, to portray Middle Easterners as decent human beings.
Cairo Time is just such a film. It is written and directed by Ruba Nada, the director of seventeen films including the beautifully made, and critically acclaimed, Sabah. Cairo Time is the tale of Juliet, a middle-aged American journalist who travels to Cairo to meet her husband who is in Gaza working with the U.N. as an aide worker. Unfortunately, she is prevented from meeting her husband because of geo-political strife. Fortunately for Juliet, her husband’s long time Egyptian friend, Tariq, assumes responsibility for her well-being and entertainment. The movie is essentially about the romance that slowly blossoms between the two. It is a lovely, quiet, well-photographed piece of cinema, and Nada, the director, deserves credit for creating Tariq as a multifaceted character, who is quiet without being submissive, intelligent without being cerebral, and conservative without being a fanatic.
Juliet is played by the very beautiful Patricia Clarkson, an actress who has excelled in playing mothers and housewives in Hollywood dramas and comedies from Easy A to Dogville; from Lars and the Real Girl to Good Night and Good Luck. She has played matrons of every description, but it is not often that we see her cast as a romantic lead.
Alexander Siddig, who is best known to viewers as the bumbling Dr. Julian Bashir in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, has spent his post-Trek years seizing the few good guy roles that Hollywood offers. From a noble Arab warrior in Kingdom of Heaven to a fantastically wealthy reform-minded prince in Siriana, Siddig has succeeded through his work to give a human face to the members of Middle Eastern societies. He definitely brings this humanizing influence to the character of Tariq.
This is a good film. If you are tired of the anti Arab racism that’s been implicit in American films for eighty years, then watch this very refreshing bit of cinematography. And when you are renting Cairo Time, make sure to look for Sabah as well.