Dispatches from Tribeca: Patricia Clarkson, Lost in Cairo

It’s hard to think of another actress who’s as consistently compelling as Patricia Clarkson. Even in Shutter Island—in a role that didn’t even need to be in the film—she shined; it’s no wonder Martin Scorsese didn’t have the heart to excise what was a completely unnecessary scene. How do you leave an actress the caliber of Ms. Clarkson on the cutting room floor?

Canadian director Ruba Nadda didn’t have that problem with Cairo Time. Ms. Clarkson appears in almost every single frame of the ethereal love story, which had its U.S. premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this week. In the film, Clarkson stars as Juliette, a Canadian magazine editor who comes to Cairo to visit her husband, who works for the U.N. After he’s detained with work, however, she’s left alone in the city with only Tareq (Alexander Siddig), her husband’s long-time friend, to keep her company. As you can no doubt guess, longing glances and much sexual tension ensue.

The Lost in Translation comparisons are unavoidable, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Ms. Nadda, like Sofia Coppola, turns her host city into a character onto itself and allows slight touches and facial expressions to do the talking of 50 soliloquies. What makes Cairo Time so truly wonderful, though—besides a score from Naill Byrne that will haunt you long after the movie ends—are the two leads. Ms. Clarkson imbues Juliette with a sense of nervous apprehension and awakening wonder, while Mr. Siddig uses a slick and Clooney-esque charm to cover what is so obviously a broken heart. These two star-crossed potential lovers are truly made for each other, if only for a million and one reasons telling them that they’re not. The stakes feel higher than in Lost in Translation and, as such, it makes the denouement resonate much more. Dispatches from Tribeca: Patricia Clarkson, Lost in Cairo