Recent Reviews

Re: “Cairo Time

A Cloying, Implausible Train Wreck of a Movie

Cairo Time is the most unintentionally hilarious movie I've ever seen. The acting was so flat, forced, and insipid, the characters and their dialog so implausible, the chemistry between the two leads so lacking, as to verge on incoherence. At one point, Tareq, the male lead, a worldly, intelligent former UN employee, fluent in English, asks Juliette, the female lead--his voice brimming with earnest disbelief--"would people really want to read an article about Egyptian street children?" Apparently, this movie takes place in an alternate reality where the existence of Save the Children has been painstakingly concealed from educated people in the Third World. Cairo Time went from promising to painful-to-watch to hilarious within the first forty minutes. The only characters who felt the least bit believable were the Egyptian extras--men in a cafe, a Bedouin family--and their all-too-brief moments of ease and naturalness just reinforced how nonsensical the rest of the movie was.

What made things even worse were the many indications that the screenwriter sincerely intended to make this a thoughtful, subtle movie. The choice of a middle-aged female lead, the depiction of sexual harassment on Egyptian streets and cruel, hostile Israeli border guards, and the un-melodramatic love story plot are all to be applauded. Somewhere along the way, it all went horribly and hilariously wrong. Maybe the problem was that, in keeping with the un-melodramatic spirit of the movie, they tried to handle all of these serious issues with a light touch. But what they ended up doing was to trivialize them, hinting now and again at a new source of trouble for one of the characters, and in short order completely forgetting about it, drifting back into the soporific dialog between the two leads. Nothing in the movie conveyed any sense of urgency, even when it clearly ought to have. Gritty, urban, beautiful Cairo was reduced to a saccharine mirage (yeah...) stripped of all grit and conspicuously lacking all of the little ways a tourist-flooded and somewhat impoverished megalopolis expresses its own cynicism. The Egyptian characters were earnest, naive, and un-self-aware to a degree that it actually undermined narrative flow.

I guess you could be generous and say that this cloying view of Cairo was simply meant to be a projection of female lead Juliette's own naive and romantic view of her new surroundings, kind of in the way that the camera's lingering on the ample bosoms and apple-round buttocks of various female actresses in Sex Trek: Penetrations was a cinematic device symbolizing the male protagonist's lust. This is sometimes called "pornography".

Actually, maybe that's the best way to describe what this movie was. Trying to tell a story about a woman falling in love with a city she is visiting as a tourist, the film maker saw nothing wrong with making everything, from characters' personalities and dialog to the narrative, fall in line with Juliette's enchanted escapism. A beautiful young woman on a bus to starving, semi-regularly bombarded Gaza is about to drop out of college because her boyfriend got her pregnant? Who cares! Cairo is beautiful! Young, handsome street toughs and charming, sophisticated older men alike throw themselves at Juliette's feet. Captain Kirk, move over!

And on top of everything else, the plot was a mess. A multitude of subplots all turned out to be complete dead ends and failed to pull together, even in an indirect, thematic way. This review explains in detail:

http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Tribeca-Rev…

This could have been a really great movie if about half the script were rewritten, and if the writer had any idea how to write a believable Middle Eastern male character, and the director wasn't taking orders from the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism.

Posted by worker ant on 09/16/2010 at 2:00 PM

Recent Comments

Re: “One marriage, under Allah

I thought the daughter (the 11-year old one) was one of the best performances in the movie, had no idea she was the director's daughter. I agree that Simin felt underdeveloped, but I'm not sure that's such a bad thing. Despite the Persian title ("The Separation of Nader from Simin"), I think the bigger separation in the movie is the one between social classes. That's as much the story it's telling as a story about divorce.

There is one thing that might confuse non-Middle Eastern viewers about religion--people in Islamic cultures refer to God all the time with no religious feeling at all. Even total atheists. The normal way to say "Let's go!" in Arabic translates to "Oh God!" ("Yallah!") You can't say "goodbye" in Persian without mentioning God ("Khodaahaafez"). But pretty much nobody thinks about God when they're saying these things. Sometimes people invoke God sarcastically. If you're not aware of this, it's going to look like people care much, much more about religion than they actually do. So, I really think JR Jones just got it wrong about Hojjat being motivated by religion.

I guess that's the danger of watching a foreign film? The words are translated in the subtitles but the cultural context isn't.

5 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by worker ant on 01/31/2012 at 10:07 PM

Re: “One marriage, under Allah

I'm afraid this review made some bold guesses about the movie based on little knowledge (a dangerous thing, as we all know), and got everything wrong. In a nutshell, the difference between the two families is much more class than religion (though the two are related).

Let's start with this:

"The story is driven by Hojjat, the wronged husband, and what drives him is fundamentalist zeal, dangerously mixed with male ego."

He's driven by the loss of his (unborn) son, and poverty--he's constantly threatened with debtor's prison (yes, debtor's prison--the problem is as much the plutocracy as the theocracy). In fact, we have almost no reason to think he is devoutly religious. He repeatedly threatens to do crazy (violent) things to other people, or to harm himself, because he has nothing to lose. He's not thinking of heaven or hell, he's thinking about his problems on earth, and he can't solve them, and he's pissed. It's not even clear that his wife's portrayal of him as a very patriarchal man (not letting her work outside the house) is strictly accurate (since just about everybody in the movie is lying at some point...). Hojjat's wife IS devoutly religious, we see this throughout the movie, but Hojjat almost doesn't seem to care about religion, except in the courthouse and other places where he wants to make a very noisy, public display.

"His faith is no act: in a key scene of the movie Hojjat, feeling he has shamed himself before Allah, goes berserk and begins flagellating himself."

Hitting himself was a spontaneous, desperate act, just like banging his head into the wall (in an earlier scene), not a religious ritual. He was reacting in an extremely tense, heated moment, and it was mentioned throughout the movie that he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, severely depressed, &c.

The class system that is driving everything is alluded to explicitly only once, but very pointedly, in the (one) line that Termeh reads out of her textbook in the hallway/lobby of the courthouse: "In Sassanian Iran [the pre-Islamic Iranian dynasty that ruled from the 3rd-7th centuries A.D.] society was divided into two classes, the upper class and the commoners," after which she pauses and looks awkwardly at the other couple's young daughter. That line was not chosen at random by the script writer, it's there for a reason.

And, Hojjat kept saying throughout the movie, to Nader and Simin (the divorcing couple) "do you think our child is an animal?" "do you think you can just do anything to us?" Nadir is obviously more educated and uses that to his advantage in the court, such as by filing the counter-complaint, by conspicuously keeping his cool and trying to provoke Hojjat to act out to piss off the judge...

"Hojjat interjects, "Like you believe in God." This provokes Nader, who snaps, "No, God is for your type only.""

Nader is not trying to show how religious he is, he's calling Hojjat a redneck.

Yes, religion and the Iranian theocracy are a big part of the setting, but the movie is repeatedly directing us to pay attention to class, to material motives, and to see religiosity in these terms.

Anyway, five stars, this movie was awesome and intense and tender and beautiful.

18 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by worker ant on 01/29/2012 at 3:15 PM

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