Every piece of art is inherently an argument.
I thought about that this evening as I came to the end of a whimsical independent film called Cairo Time. The story idyllically follows a UN diplomat's wife as she experiences Cairo for the first time, initially waiting for her husband to arrive from a Gaza refugee camp, then happily losing herself in the enjoyment of her tour guide's company. This "guide" is a former colleague of her husband's, now turned coffee house owner, who offers to show her around when her husband's absence continues. As the film progresses (like most romantic movies), you kind of want Tareq and Juliette to be together. After all, her husband, Mark, has left her to her own devices in a completely alien city, and he seems to be callously indifferent to her plight. Never mind that he does important work at a refugee camp in a war-torn area. Tareq is handsome, tragic enough to soften hearts, and chivalrous to boot.
Not much of an argument there, of course - it's not a statement about foreign policy or the preservation of antiquities. But it's still the use of persuasion to lead the individual to an empathetic support for what would ultimately be a betrayal of trust - an affair. And in a way, I feel betrayed as a viewer when I'm led to that point. Unless you have a very open relationship, I would think that very few people could question the destructiveness of cheating, whether you're dating, engaged, or married. And yet, here I am being called to support that?
Oh, maybe it's not an argument for adultery. Fair enough. It is also (and here I did appreciate the content) a beautifully artistic portrayal of human relationships and the battle between emotion and will. The film relies very little on dialogue, in part because the story follows Juliette through much solitude. Part of the artistry of the work is that even as it intrudes upon a couple in the tenderest of moments, the camera often steps back, as if giving them privacy in their moments of public intimacy.
For all that it may not be arguing explicitly for an affair, it seems to me that when we are presented with love stories, there is something in us that wants them to work. Not the ones that are horribly flawed, where there's abuse or unhealthy dependencies, but then, there's not much honest love in those stories. Inherently, I know when I settle in to watch a rom com or some equally mushy slush, I'm going to be rooting for someone to make it together through all the drama and the difficulty. Because the thing is, no matter how much we see going wrong in our own relationships or those around us, we still hope and pray for one thing - that love wins. And yet, Cairo Time doesn't end satisfyingly. Maybe that's because, for all our slow dance songs and our Valentine's bouquets, we have no idea what love is, and what we really want to last is a good feeling.