Monday, August 11, 2008

CARAMEL (Nadine Labaki, 2007, Lebanon) How can something so sticky sweet cause so much pain? CARAMEL is a Lebanese drama about five women attempting to find love, the secret alchemical mixture to lifelong happiness, but instead discover strength within themselves and the enduring bonds of friendship. Never condescending or trite, this seemingly simple cinematic recipe boils over with an emotionally complex and bittersweet flavor and leaves you wanting more. The story is concerned with five women and their fractured lives: Layale is involved with a married man, Nisrine is to be married, Rima is a lesbian, Jamale is afraid of growing old, and Rose desires companionship other than her demented sister. This is director Nadine Labaki’s first film and it’s a success (she also plays the lead role Layale). The film cuts to different stories about the women, as the narrative often doesn’t overlap: we get a few moments of intimacy with each character. We experience their anger, frustration, fear, jealousy, guilt, and happiness on their level; we feel a part of their world. The story doesn’t take us on a conventional journey; the path may seem familiar but the destination is unexpected! When Layale secretly confronts her boyfriend’s wife, we anticipate a tempest of accusations but instead get a sublime epiphany, a true character insight that is so under-dramatic it’s beautiful. Rima adores a raven-haired girl that often visits the salon but we only see their interaction as Rima washes the girl’s hair; the rest remains unspoken and only exists outside the camera’s frame. Nisrine’s fear of not being a virgin for her husband is fixed with a quick medical procedure, but we never discover its effectiveness. Jamale fakes her period and it is left to the viewer to understand her behavior; there is no exposition involving her friends where she stutters a curt explanation. Labaki leaves each story open-ended and thankfully doesn’t feel the need to tie up the narrative with a contrived conclusion. We only need to understand that these Lebanese women face the same problems that all women confront and this bond transcends all nations, cultures, and religions. (B)

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