“Caramel” moving portrait of Lebanese women

Leslie Dyson

“The Lebanese woman, be she Muslim or Christian, lives a contradiction between what she is, what she wants to be and what she is allowed to be.” This is the premise employed by co-writer, director and star of the second offering in the Cultural Film and Lecture Seriers, “Caramel,” in creating her tribute to the women of Lebanon. While many of Lebanon’s films deal with the political conflict, Nadine Labaki’s 2007, Cannes Film Festival debut, “Caramel,” deals with issues far beyond that.

The first feature film from Labaki, “Caramel” explores the lives of five women whose paths intersect in a Beirut beauty parlor. The film opens with the process of making caramel, by mixing the natural ingredients of sugar, lemon and water. Caramel is commonly used for removing hair in Middle Eastern salons. Labaki stars as Layale, a beauty salon worker dealing with issues of love and marriage. The other cast members were mainly non-professional actresses as a way to show how real Lebanese women react to real-life issues. Each actress represents a different aspect of the modern Lebanese woman who deals with sexuality, marriage, family and men.

Labaki is known in Lebanon for her work on the small screen in commercials and music videos. In those as well, she has shown her love for her native country. Here, the Lebanon native shows the real side of modern Beirut by placing the film in its busy, lived-in streets. “Caramel” was scored by Labaki’s future husband, Khaled Mouzannar, who contiues celebrates the theme of modern Beirut by mixing both pop and indigenous music. Labaki’s breakthrough film was Lebanon’s official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 2008 Academy Awards.

The second offering in the current Cultural Film & Lecture Series, “Women Take the Camera,” “Caramel” will be shown in its original language, Arabic, with English subtitles. The film will be shown four times in the Connelly Center Cinema: Saturday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m., Sunday, Feb.1 at 3:30 and 7 p.m., and Monday, Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. Admission is free for students with ID and $5 for all others.

The Monday screening will feature guest speaker Nasser Chour of the communication department. A native of Lebanon, Chour will introduce the film and then lead a discussion after the showing.