Wednesday, September 9, 2009
There is something special and appealing about a movie that delves into the universal themes of love and longing, especially when it opens windows into a different culture. Director, screenwriter, and actress Nadine Labaki (Layale) presents the excellent film Caramel, a story about a group of Christian Lebanese women who work in a beauty shop (and a couple of women associated with the business). The title refers to the caramel mixture they use to remove (wax) women’s faces and legs, though it also serves as a metaphor for dealing with the unwanted detritus of relationships gone bad. Ladaki, gorgeous and sultry, is caught in the familiar "other women" role, sadly waiting for a man who will not leave his wife. The other women each wrestle with their own desires: an aging commercial actress and mother of teenagers trying to latch that elusive spot; a lesbian woman in the midst of a very traditional society, whose heartthrob enters the shop one day, and keeps coming back; a bride-to-be worried about masking the fact that she is not a virgin; a older seamstress suddenly offered a chance at a relationship; and a cantankerous, naughty, intrusive, senile crone, who provides much of the comedic sideplay in the movie. Enjoyable too is the role of a clumsy, love-smitten traffic cop who has fallen for Layale. All the women have to deal with a patriarchal and restrictive society (one women being forced to accept, and then redecorate, accommodations in a bawdy location because no one will rent her a room unless she can prove she is married) with many rules on behavior for women. The more I see films from the Middle East, I realize that many want to tell the story that despite oppression, women find many ways to resist and challenge the roles they are expected to fulfill, even if they cannot totally escape the parameters set for them. One of the best scenes occurs when Layale waxes and removes hair from the face of her smitten admirer, and the glow on his face as he leaves the shop. Hopefully she writes a sequel in which they are a couple. The only disappointment is that some storylines might have been explored, and they is little reference to broader themes of society in this contentious location.