- Published on Thursday, 27 January 2011 16:48
The question of women’s role in society is often surrounded by issues of conflict. Women are, in many societies, sequestered to the home, forced to fulfill domestic roles, and repressed in their ability to function as independent thinkers. Caramel, a 2007 romantic comedy from the emerging Lebanese film industry, offers an evocative and thought provoking look onto the lives of five women in Lebanon. With Nadine Labaki multi-tasking as Director and star, Caramel deals with complex social and emotional issues, adding plenty of humor along the way.
Caramel sheds light on the lives of five women in Beirut, Lebanon, each one dealing with her own specific socio-gender issues. But, ultimately, their issues transcend the characters and resonate for all women across the globe; issues of acceptance, social status, loneliness and self-esteem.
The plot of the film centers on a beauty salon in Beirut, and the five women who operate it- each at a different stage in her life. Nadine Labaki is a young unwed woman engaged in an affair with a married man. She is seeking a commitment from someone who will not devote himself to her. The character of her lover is never seen on camera as anything more than a dark silhouette in a parked car, or as a muffled voice over a telephone call. Her co-worker Nisrine (Yasmine Elmasri) is a soon-to-be bride dealing with her impending marriage and the issues surrounding her lack of pre-marital virginity. Other characters include the aging beauty Jamale, (Gisele Aouad) a patron of the beauty salon who is desperately trying to retain her youth and beauty as the world surrounds her with images of young, fertile women. Rima (Joanna Moukarzel), the shampoo girl/custodian/delivery girl for the salon is struggles with her sexual orientation and uncertainty about her role in relationships. Lastly, we have Rose (Sihame Haddad), a seamstress dealing with issues of isolation paradoxically positioned against her fear to venture outside of her daily activities. Rose’s roommate is her older sister, played by Aziza Semaan, who’s cranky and demanding ways inhibit Rose and her desire to pursue her client and romantic interest, actor Dmitri Staneofski.
Though the issues that each woman faces vary from one character to the next, they are all based on an underlying sense of un-fulfillment and loneliness. The cast’s chemistry is spot on; their interaction with one another is delicate and yet blunt, both caring and familiar. There is not a feeling of ‘forced’ emotion or artificial relationships between the characters. Labaki’s direction of the film is natural, relaxed and straightforward. The plot line, though multi faceted and based on five separate persons, is not overly complicated and handles the interwoven narratives brilliantly.
Caramel delves specifically into sociological issues present in Beirut, Lebanon- a culture heavily saturated with specific gender, social, and religious roles and proclivities. The film’s characters embody five different, specific “roles” that any singular woman may in fact inhabit at various times in her life. But, ultimately, their struggles transcend social, racial, or ethnic affiliation.By Erin Joyce, Aslan Media Contributor
Caramel. DVD. Directed by Nadine Labaki. Los Angeles: Lionsgate, 2007
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