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Caramel (2007)

I don’t know anything about Lebanon. I’m not even sure if it’s part of Asia. (at least I know Africa is a continent and not a country… Sarah Palin still wins) All I can honestly say that I know about it is that Beirut is its capital. This, I found out, from watching No Reservations. Anthony Bourdain’s almost Emmy win was the Lebanon episode when they were stranded in Beirut for weeks because they were filming for their show when the Lebanon Civil War of 2006 started. Ok, so I knew two things: their capital, and that there was a civil war in 2006.

This is one of the better reasons why I’m currently hooked on foreign-language cinema. These films give you a glimpse of the culture, the country, and the people’s regular way of life that a tourist-y group tour or cruise will never provide.  My husband and I try to stay away from the “tourist attractions” whenever we visit a new place. Rather than doing an “amazing race” tour of a certain region just to have more ground covered, we’d rather sit in a coffee shop and watch the day go by. Or better yet, live it that area for a significant amount of time. That’s really the only way a traveller can truly immerse themselves to a foreign culture. Foreign language cinema allows me to do that in the comforts of my living room. Yes of course, the actual travelling is far better, but I can settle for now.

I’ve been seeing this Lebanese film in my “movies Netflix thinks you will like” list even during my first subscription months ago. I never had the chance to see it though, but I never forgot about it. Lately I’ve come to trust the films Netflix recommends. I was able to see Conversations with Other Women through this list – it has gained my trust. So when we renewed our subscription and I again saw Caramel, I decided to see it as soon as possible.

Caramel, is a Lebanese film directed by a female director. That alone scored high on my charts. Women directors, with the exception of Almodovar, are the best storytellers of women stories, which I am a big fan of. Then, I read from the movie’s short description that it is a – yes, a romantic comedy. Jackpot! By the time I was attaching my laptop’s cables to the flat screen I was too excited already, though I was trying not to be – one disappointment for the day was enough.

And then I saw the film. Netflix database – you’re a good friend. You really know me! It was everything that I wanted it to be and so much more. I know I made some comments about not discussing a film’s plot, especially since one can easily check Wikipedia. So despite really wanting to, I won’t. Well maybe just a little bit…

The film revolves around the story of 5 Lebanese women who are all connected to a rundown beauty salon in Beirut, though the salon is not the only thing that they have in common. Women, or so they say, all have secrets – some of them they’ll take to the grave. The lead character, played by the director, has an affair with a married policeman. “So what?”, most western cultures would say. If you want to book a hotel room in Beirut for a couple, you have to show proof that you are married to the person you are rooming with – it’s the law. So an affair, with a policeman to say the least, is no laughing matter. There is a character who is about to get married, but she has to take care of something important before “the day”. She has a problem, she’s not a virgin anymore. Another big “so what” right? Well, maybe not. Because I few days prior to her wedding day, she silently went through an operation to “restore” her virginity. There was a lesbian character, which I do not have to elaborate, is keeping her secret a secret. A funny character couldn’t face the fact that she’s old, so she pretends “mother nature” still visits her every month. And then there was an old lady, who was a good sister, so she’s falling in love for the first time at 70.

It doesn’t sound like a romantic comedy right? But it is! How those plots were explored, how the actors played with their characters, how despite the circumstances they were in the viewer still got to see the lighter-side of life, to me, is what made this film great. I’m guessing that’s how the “caramel” metaphor fits into everything – being sweet, delicious – but slightly painful since the film shows the characters enjoying it in its semi-liquid state which, if you have no idea how caramel works, would be somewhat hot. Also, this I didn’t know, they use caramel for waxing in Lebanon. Since they work in a beauty salon – that’s one of their most precious stock. Of course that isn’t how things are done here in the West, but then again – I guess that’s another metaphor.

The film was acclaimed because unlike most Lebanese film, it didn’t discuss the war or  had any form of political agenda. It was a heart-warming story about ordinary women and ordinary lives told in a magical way. I remember reading something that Gabriel Garcia Marquez said that he is often amused with the many interpretations critics came up with the things he wrote in 100 years of solitude, since some (or probably most) of them were merely ideas he made up without any profound meaning. Maybe I’m semi-doing that for Caramel, maybe. Still I loved it.  Plus it made me trust “Netflix recommends” more.

  1. May 20, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    Reblogged this on That Dark Alley.

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