Caramel – Sukkar banat (2007) World Cinema Series – Lebanon

I’m starting the World Cinema Series today with a movie that I watched during the Christmas break. It’s a Franco-Lebanese film directed by Nadine Labaki who also plays one of the five main characters.

Caramel tells the story of five friends living in the city of Beirut, in Lebanon. It’s an homage to friendship and the city of Beirut which was once called “Paris of the Middle-East” before it was bombed constantly and almost completely destroyed. The movie interweaves these five friends’ stories, shows their sorrows and pains, their joys and happiness. It manages to paint a picture of an extremely diverse Muslim society. Through the stories of these five women we see five different ways of life.

The biggest part of the story takes place in a beauty parlour where three of the five women are working. Layale is in love with a married man, and frequently rushes off from work, to meet him somewhere in a parking lot. Rima is attracted by women and one of her clients seems to feel the same. Nasrine is about to get married. She has a huge problem, that she shares with her girl friends. She isn’t “intact” anymore. Jamale is one of their clients and best friends. A fortysomething divorced part-time model who is terrified by getting older. Rose is an aging seamstress who takes care of Lilli, a very old demented woman.

There are some men as well, an aging man who falls in love with the gentle Rose, a policeman who pines for Layale.

I liked Caramel a lot. It’s a very warm movie, that captures a world that is at the same time foreign and familiar. I was captivated by the music, the pictures and the stories alike. These women fight the same fights we fight, they look for love and happiness, friendship and meaning. They are worried about their looks, their family, their love life. What is however completely different from our society is the human warmth and the friendship that extends over different generations.

The story of Rose and Lilli was one I liked best. All of the women take care of Lilli and she is treated with such a lot of love and respect although she does really crazy things and is getting on everyone’s nerves.

Caramel is a highly entertaining movie, moving and funny and with the right amount of melancholy to prevent it from becoming either silly or sugar-coated. Like the title, a bit like burnt sugar… Btw caramel isn’t only eaten in the movie, it is used for depilation, instead of wax. It’s such an apt symbol, something that can be sweet and delicious but causes a lot of pain as well. Just like life.

The trailer below takes a few seconds before it starts. It gives a good impression of the movie and its wonderful score.