chillin·: (l-r) Clarkson and Siddig in Cairo
by Ruba Nadda
an E.M. Forster heroine first encountering India, Juliette
(Patricia Clarkson) descends into the humid, tumultuous cosmos
of Cairo looking a bit lost and confused·if coolly
chic. Juliette, an editor for the American magazine Vous,
has left her 12-hour workdays to visit the Egyptian capital
in hopes of meeting up with her husband Mark (Tom McCamus);
he·s a U.N. official who has been unavoidably detained
by vaguely defined unrest in Gaza. Fortunately, Mark has arranged
for his former colleague Tareq (Alexander Siddig) to chauffer
his wife to the hotel and, ultimately, as the days stretch
on and on, become her de facto tour guide.
Ruba Nadda is clearly interested in the West·s perception
of the Middle East, a point made immediately when Tareq rather
testily queries Juliette, ·What Middle East? The middle
of what?· Throughout the movie·s slim running
time, Juliette makes unwitting cultural faux pas, like walking
about the streets alone and wandering into male-only coffeehouses.
In the case of the former, there is an urgent sense of impending
disaster, as Egyptian men stalk and nearly accost her. At
one point she compliments the cleaning staff·s hajib,
and it can·t help but come out as the height of banality,
even more so when, in the next scene, Juliette is wearing
what appears to be the same head garment as she traipses through
a mosque. (She did, at least, remember to take off her sandals.)
Clarkson engages us as a somewhat weary, sharp-eyed traveler,
trying gamely to make sense of a new time zone and a foreign
culture, but there·s a melancholy pervading her every
move (which, apparently, has to do with endless waiting for
Mark to arrive).
problem of Cairo Time is the flimsy way in which Mark·s
and Juliette·s marriage is sketched. Are they truly
happy? Is he stepping out on her? Is there really trouble
in Gaza? Does his ongoing absence underscore a longstanding
emotional detachment? Nadda seems unsure of which way to go
on these questions, so at times Juliette looks positively
radiant as she discusses her husband, and at others, depressed
and frustrated. The unevenness comes into play as the relationship
between Tareq and Juliette grows into something slightly more
intimate than mere acquaintance. Clearly, he·s taken
in her considerable charms from the get-go, and is at all
times willing to drop everything to escort her here and there.
She seems amazed and delighted when, late in the game, his
parting kiss lingers just a bit too long, and a climatic date
seems ripe for an enchanting consummation of subsumed
lushly golden cinematography (by Luc Montpellier), Cairo Time
offers a stunning portrait of this teeming, colorful and vibrant
metropolis. Tareq·s pride is understandable, perhaps
more so than Juliette·s inability to understand the
existence of class distinctions. Clarkson is radiant, reminiscent
of Katharine Hepburn·s glowing turn in Summertime,
and Siddiq is smolderingly sexy, even in a dress (actually,
the traditional galabia). The movie is enjoyable, in the way
that laying in warm afternoon sunshine can be, but it disappoints
in its failure to delve deeper into its characters·
true feelings, let alone the cultural differences that separate
A Cat Treat
by Alain Resnais
time you read this, Wild Grass likely will have disappeared
from local cinemas. It·s for the usual reason: no customers.
This can·t be chalked up to our increasing resistance
to foreign films and dread of subtitles, however; judging
from the random reactions I·ve heard, this movie just
pissed people off. If nothing else, this is a tribute to 88-year-old
filmmaker Alain Resnais· continuing ability to confound
and challenge moviegoers.
Wild Grass is
a puzzle-box of a movie. A fussy older shopper with bright
red hair fresh from a bottle, Marguerite (Sabine Azéma),
is robbed of her bag in a crowded public place. An irritable
older man, Georges (André Dussollier), finds a bright
red wallet on the ground next to his car; the wallet is Marguerite·s,
discarded by the original thief. What follows is an increasingly
bizarre series of encounters as the two strangers pursue and
repel each other in what is, ultimately, a distasteful relationship.
who are we to judge?
is cranky, selfish, dishonest, prone to fantastic flights
of fancy and coolly disconnected from his attractive, younger
second wife and adult children. He is, in short, an asshole.
Marguerite is selfish, uncaring, disconnected from the few
intimates in her life and able to feel passion for only one
thing: flying. She·s unlikable.
is more alienating than characters one doesn·t like
doing things one doesn·t feel any affinity for. And
yet . . . the film pulls you in, in spite of this. (It pulled
me in, anyway.)
Wild Grass unfolds
with the logic of a dream·a dream told by an unreliable
narrator (Edouard Baer). The film begins with fetishistic
close-ups of body parts and products; we·re only allowed
to get to know the characters in the filmmaker·s own
good time. The luxurious compositions and all-around cinematic
razzle-dazzle are irresistible; one may not care for the characters,
but their behavior is fascinating·and often rings true.
now if spoilers annoy you.
end, Resnais really pulls the rug out from under the audience,
with the suggestion·irritatingly backed up, on reflection,
by some of what one·s seen·that everything in
Wild Grass is just an idle dream. A dream as odd and
weightless as a young girl imagining herself to be a cat,
eating ·cat munchies.· For some reason, I found
this delightful. Most people, however, would quite reasonably
be pissed off.