Caramel. Sweet, brown and very very sticky. Nadine Labaki’s Lebanese film, “Caramel” does justice to these parameters of that word. Shot in various hues of brown, the movie is definitely sweet to the point of being sticky since the time you have tasted it and walked out of the cinema hall.
On the Friday gone by, Mrs. DhiOnlyOne and I found ourselves rushing into a cinema hall which was almost empty. The title roll had started and swirls of thick caramel rolled across the screen in various forms. Pretty soon, we found ourselves in a beauty salon run by 3 girls. Nadine Labaki herself acts as one of the central characters, Layale. Layale runs the beauty salon along with two of her friends, Nisrin and Rima. Three young ladies, living a free life and having their share of dreams and hopes. Then there is Jamale, a struggling actress who is also fighting a losing battle with age.
Layale is shown as a strong contemporary woman, who has dared to confront traditionalism in the face. She is obsessively in love with a married man. Grappling between her unconventional love and the aspirations of her parents, her life questions the foundations of modern day society’s stand on love and relationships. Nisrin is on her way to get married and has her own problem to deal with; that being that she is not a virgin and is getting married to a Muslim. What are the consequences of being found out, what are the consequences of being abandoned, and what are the consequences of losing someone you strongly love? Again, Caramel focuses on sexuality and the moral paraphernalia that it comes closely bound with. Rima, another character who is played out wonderfully well by Joanna Moukarzel, is a shy girl, preferring to not indulging in the usual feminine activities of making oneself up. Rima, on the other hand, has a liking towards women. Questioning sexuality is the central theme of this beauty salon.
Close to the salon is a tailoring shop run by an old lady, Rose, who is struggling to make ends meet by stitching people’s clothes. She has taken on the additional responsibility of looking after her mentally challenged sister, Lili. Caramel brings out the aspect of unconditional love in various snippets. Layale’s love for her married man is a standout picture. But what is more appreciative is how Rose looks after Lili, a person who cannot reciprocate nor appreciate Rose’s gestures. Yet, Rose goes on. Smile after smile. In a particular scene where Rose goes to deliver the clothes of one of the girls at the Salon, the girls ask her to sit down and chat over coffee. But Rose politely refuses citing that Lili would be alone at home. A woman who does not succumb to her personal freedom solely to ensure that her sister gets her freedom to do things in her own different world.
How do the lives of these women unfurl is what Caramel is all about. Does Layale break the barriers of society, does Rose finally give in to life’s finer pleasures and do Rimi and Nisrin get what they want out of life?
Set in Beirut, Lebanon, Caramel is not just a collection of stories of these people. It is more of a blend of life and its vagaries. Sweet, brown and very very sticky.
Image courtesy: www.caramelmovie.com