Cairo Time, with its travelogue scenes of pyramids, the Nile River and grand bazaars, feels like Roman Holiday done Merchant-Ivory style. It looks beautiful, is populated with attractive, well-attired people and isn't intricate or weighty, despite intrusive, swelling music that begs to differ.
Patricia Clarkson plays Juliette Grant, a New York-based magazine writer who arrives in Cairo for a rendezvous with her husband, an administrator for a United Nations refugee camp in Gaza. In-camp strife keeps him waylaid, so Juliette waits for weeks in luxury-hotel languor, attending boring embassy parties, fending off leering young men and finding that Western attitudes about gender relations and child labor don't fly in Egypt.
Shepherding Juliette and gently reproaching her naiveté is her husband's ex-colleague Tareq (Alexander Siddig), who happens to be single, handsome and sophisticated. Circumstance has given Juliette a chance to question her life and marriage as she reaches middle age. But in this film, an affair would be tawdry and taboo, so instead we get long walks and many longing stares.
Clarkson flawlessly pulls off the passive approach her role demands and looks fantastic, even if it seems a stretch that someone stuck in foreign-travel limbo could pull off shampoo-ad hair and lovely, wrinkle-free dresses every day.
The plot doesn't really stand up to scrutiny, but Cairo Time works on an emotional level and is a hassle-free way to sample Egypt.