Oscar buzz begins for Ruba Nadda's 'Cairo Time'
Constance Droganes, entertainment writer, CTV.ca
Published Sunday, October 11, 2009 7:39AM EDT
"Cairo Time," a little homegrown film, stole the spotlight at 2009 Toronto International Film Festival.
Thanks to director Ruba Nadda, this sumptuous romance about two strangers who resist temptation won TIFF's Best Canadian Feature Film prize.
Thanks to leading lady Patricia Clarkson, "Cairo Time" was also one of the few films to rival the red carpet interest in George Clooney and Oprah Winfrey.
"This film was so subtle yet hard to do," Clarkson told CTV.ca. "Ruba was very brave to try this, particularly today. Audiences aren't used to seeing a quiet, complicated love story like this."
Despite good reviews and positive audience reaction, can Nadda's old-school indie romance earn an Oscar nod?
"If it happens I'll be thrilled," says Nadda, 37. "This movie was a beast to make. I'm just thankful it got made at all."
Nadda is no stranger to the movie biz. She launched her career in 1997 with "Wet Heat Drifts Through the Afternoon," an 8-minute short about a 12-year-old Muslim girl.
Her 2005 film "Sabah" earned Nadda her best reviews to date. It starred Arsin�e Khanjian as a Muslim woman who falls for a man outside her faith.
Despite that experience and her good fortune to sign Clarkson, "Cairo Time's" financing crumbled just two weeks before Nadda and crew were to fly to Egypt.
"It was a terrible blow," Nadda told CTV.ca. "But, that's financing today. The idea of a romance without speed chases or exploding robots scares some financiers away."
Producers secured new financing within 24 hours. Yet, problems still arose once shooting began.
"Cairo is the Hollywood of the Middle East. But, it can be a very tough city to deal with," says Nadda, who lived in Syria with her parents before moving to Canada.
There were on-set censors to deal with daily. Nadda was also infuriated by the human indignities she saw, particularly in one carpet factory that employed four-year-old children.
"Patricia had to hold me back during that shoot day. I really thought I was going to punch the guy running the factory," says Nadda.
The end result was worth it.
As Juliette, the film's enigmatic heroine who is tempted by her husband's friend (Alexander Siddig), Clarkson delivers a performance that is brain-teasingly subtle and complex.
"Patricia has something in her eyes that makes audiences want to stay with her on this journey," says Nadda.
"She's vulnerable. She's strong. Hollywood sees her as a great character actor. But, she deserves to be nominated in the Oscar's leading actress category," says Nadda.
Clarkson, 49, made her movie debut in the 1987 film "The Untouchables." Director Brian De Palma cast the golden-haired, smoky-voiced actress as the wife of Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner).
The New Orleans-born actress was stuck for several years playing wifely parts. By the mid-1990s, however, Clarkson emerged as real force on stage and on the indie film circuit.
Acclaimed for her off-beat roles, Clarkson received a special acting prize at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival for her work in three films that year: "The Station Agent," "Pieces of April," and "All the Real Girls."
Her superb performance in "Pieces of April" nabbed Clarkson an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 2004.
Clarkson's appearances on "Six Feet Under" also earned her two Emmys, (2002, 2006) for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series.
"Without Patricia, 'Cairo Time' would have missed the mark," says Nadda. "The entire film rested on her shoulders. She totally pulled it off."