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Movie Review: Caramel

Over time, Arab cinema has come to a point where it has learnt countless lessons from western cinemas and has successfully elaborated extensively upon the most sensitive of issues of society. Movies such as these include the 2008 All My Life by Maher Sabry which explores the life of a gay man in Egypt (Sabry, 2008), the 2006 Bahraini Tale by Bassam Al Thawadi which explores the life of a middle class family that is stranded in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War (Thawadi, 2006) and the 2007 Caramel by Nadine Labaki which elaborates upon the lives of five different women whose lives are riddled with the most complex of circumstances.

The 2007 Lebanese movie, Caramel is an Arabic motion picture and is Director/Actress Nadine Labaki’s directorial debut. It is considered to be one of the most acclaimed movies on the international level and takes the audience through the story of five Lebanese women as they struggle with the deepest desires of their hearts. The five women each show a unique side of a woman’s mind. The first is Layale, who works in a beauty salon and is assisted by two other women.

She is in a relationship that is not going anywhere since the man who she has fallen in love with is a married man (Labaki, 2007). The second is Nisrine who is not a virgin but is being subjected to an arranged marriage. She is continuously haunted by the fact that she is no longer a virgin while her family does not allow any form of premarital relationships. The third woman is Rima who finds herself attracted to other women while her society holds no regard for such relationships or desires.

Another woman is Jamale who is continuously worried about aging. Rose has spend her life taking care of her mentally instable sister, but has found her first love and is now left in a paradox where she is pulled between her first love and her duty to her sister. Through the tale of these five women, the movie Caramel presents a woman’s perception as she struggles through numerous phases of her life and how a woman’s life is one that holds far more complexity than it is given credit for.

The movie addresses forbidden love, obligations imposed by tradition, repressed sexuality, the conflict between duty and desire and a woman’s struggle as she ages. It is evident that the director has chosen to maintain the audiences’ attention towards the central issue of the movie since there is no mention of the war as the movie portrays life being spent in completely normal conditions with the paradox between a woman’s internal and external struggle as the central focus.

One can see in the movie that the character’s life begin to develop elements of complexity out of the most simplest of actions as they pursue their desires and that there is rarely an action that is purely intentional as some of them choose to submit to the desires of their heart while others choose to look the other way and move on with the rest of their lives in denial.

Now that an understanding of the movie has been developed, the following paragraphs shall elaborate upon the movie in light of Lina Khatib’s 2006 Filming the Modern Middle East: Politics in the Cinemas of Hollywood and the Arab World. Upon going through Lina Khatib’s 2006 Filming the Modern Middle East: Politics in the Cinemas of Hollywood and the Arab World, it is evident that she chooses to define five distinct categories in her book in which the portrayal of women can be observed to occur in Arab movies.

According to Lina Khatib, the first is the representation of women-as-idealized-nation, the second is the approach in which women’s appropriate sexual conduct is regarded to constitute the crucial distinction between the nation and its others, the third is when women are used as a symbolic tool vis-a-vis Islamic fundamentalism, the fourth is the representation of modern woman/nation through women who are politically active and the last is the approach that portrays that the representation of active women does not imply that they are central protagonists (Khatib, 2006).

If one was to analyze the movie Caramel in light of these five categories, one cannot help but feel that Nadine Labaki has attempted to elaborate upon the women who are categorized in Lina Khatib’s third category. One cannot help but notice that the women shown in Nadine Labaki’s Caramel are struggling precariously between the obligations that they are under as a result of the moral values of their society, and the desires that they hold in their heart. We can see that the women are either in a state of desire for something that they desperately seek, or are in a state of regret over an action that they have performed.

However, in both cases, they are choosing to go against the norms that their society dictates. Because of these norms, they are stranded in a position where they are incapable of raising their voices to make any objections and the only option that they have is to quietly adhere to them if they desire to live lives with respect. Works Cited Khatib, L. (2006). Filming the modern Middle East: politics in the cinemas of Hollywood and the Arab world. I. B. Tauris. Labaki, N. (Director). (2007). Caramel [Motion Picture]. Sabry, M. (Director). (2008). All My Life [Motion Picture]. Thawadi, B. A. (Director). (2006). Bahraini Tale [Motion Picture].

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