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"Your Name Is My Prayer..." - Caramel on DVD and BLU RAY (See PS Re BLU RAY Format),
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This review is from: Caramel [DVD] (2007) (DVD)
"Caramel" is not what you'd expect from Lebanese filmmaking and in particular movies about that most troubled of their cities - Beirut. I found it touching, unbelievably insightful and genuinely romantic too - it's one of the loveliest watches I've had the pleasure of seeing in years. The largely unknown cast is superb and each deserves specific mention:
NADINE LABAKI plays Layale - the sexy yet scatter-brained 35-year old owner of "Si Belle" - a salon that acts as emotion-central for co-workers and girlfriends. Layale is having a giddy but demeaning affair with a married man whom we never see except as a shadow in a car under a bridge - or hear him - as he honks his horn outside the premises for her to come running...
YASMINE AL MASRI plays Nisrine - one of Layale's best workers - the beautiful and young Nisrine is having doubts about her forthcoming marriage to Bassam - a headstrong modern man played by ISMAL ANTAR. Bassam is a man who will take on the oppressive state and even God rather than capitulate; Nisrine's also worried that Bassam might not want her should he find out about her less-than-virginal past...
GISELE AOUAD plays Jamale - a customer and friend of the younger ladies. Jamale's mid to late 40's, an actress who is getting too old to nab the lucrative advert roles anymore and goes to sad and desperate lengths to stay young-looking...
JOANNA MOUKARZEL plays the slightly butch Rima - a lowly washer of hair in the saloon who falls silently and breathlessly in love with a beautiful woman who walks in off the street one afternoon. She is played by FATME SAFA - and may even share with shy Rima the love that dares not speaks its name (the title of this review is a lyric from a love song sung by Rima at Nisrine's wedding)...
SIHAM HADDAD plays the stoical and ceaselessly loving Rose - Rima's 65-year-old Aunt who lives across the street from the salon in her humble haberdashery business...
Lili (her even older sister) is played to heart-breaking perfection by AZIZA SEMAAN. Lili is a mouthy old curmudgeon who picks up bits of paper off the streets and tells everyone there's a plane coming to take her and her lover away. Rose is driven to despair by Lili's increasingly difficult senility until one day a gentleman caller comes in for a suit alteration. His name is Charles played by a debonair DIMITRI STANCOFSKY - Charles says little, but his kind and warm glances reawaken a tenderness in Rose she'd long thought gone - and of course poses her with a horrible family conundrum....
ADEL KARAM plays Youssef - the parking-ticket Policeman who longs for Layale from a distance, but she is too busy screwing up her life to notice. Youssef is handsome, decent and right for her, if only Layale would stop sticking her tongue out at him...
FADIA STELLA plays the redheaded and lovely Christine, wife of Rahid, the feckless husband we never see. She comes calling to "So Beautiful" for a free waxing one afternoon after a phone-call the previous day to her home by a sappily desperate Layale. Or perhaps Christine's there to size up the threat to her marriage and her lovely young daughter. There are many other cameos and they're all excellent.
Nadine Labaki - the principal actress and director - co-wrote the script with RODNEY EL HADDAD and JIHAD HOJEILY. It's her 1st film and she could easily have shirked the undeniable downside of their world in order to make the film a more palatable package for Western viewers - but she doesn't. The eternal shame heaped on women by virtue of religious guilt in all things that they do - the double standards of the authorities - the legacy of war lingering malevolently in the background - all of is subtly woven into crucial scenes. Their lives are not given to you in a preachy or clichéd manner, but in a way that shows you just what a Middle Eastern woman has to cope with nowadays. They laugh like us, they cry, they triumph, they make their mistakes, take stock, get back up again - and try their damnedest to be modern in a world inextricably tied into a two-thousand year old past. Family acts as the bedrock - friends are cherished - and love - like in every society - is the simple and deeply sought after goal for all. It's a positive and refreshing film and a view of Beirut city life that you just don't ever see.
The script is full of deftly insightful stuff too - scenes that are just so funny, tender, sad, romantic: the kid under the family dinner table looking up Nisrine's skirt because she and Bassam were playing touchy-feely legs and he knows the woman can't rat him out; the tenderness between Charles and Rose as he quietly sugars her tea in his apartment after she's returned his altered gentleman's trousers; Jamale sat on a toilet using a bottle of ink on tissue paper to feign her still having youth; Rima's lovely face as she falls in love, softly washing the long flowing jet-black hair of a stunningly beautiful customer in the lean-back sink...her huge brown eyes as she looks back up at Rima....and smiles. To effortlessly move from the old-world respect of the elderly couple to the sensual playfulness of the young lesbians in the salon is fantastic writing.
"Caramel" blew me away - it made me ache for these good people and their hopes and aspirations and dreams. But if you want real persuasion, there are FOUR nomination references on the DVD's rear sleeve, one of which is the WINNER of the AUDIENCE AWARD at the "San Sebastian Film Festival". Not the critics - not the industry insiders - the 'audience' award. That public knew a winner when they saw one.
Joy, pride and heart went into the making of this little foreign film (called "Sukkar Banat" in some territories) - and as the credits role and Nadine Labaki's dedication tells you the movie is "For My Beirut" - it's hard not to be impossibly moved. Put "Caramel" high on your rental/to buy list. And then make a beeline for Mira Nair's "The Namesake" - another peach of a movie - cut with the same tenderness and grace.
PS 2014 FORMATS UPDATE:
As of June 2014 - the UK REGION 2 DVD on Momentum (Barcode 5060116722819 for the correct issue) is the only format to have this Lebanese language film in ENGLISH subtitles - English and English for the Hard of Hearing.
There are now two All Regions BLU RAY reissues: The German issue on Barcode 4042564130788 has two Audio tracks - German DD 5.1 and Arabic DD 5.1 - but has only German language subtitles. The French BLU RAY also has two Audio tracks - Lebanese and French 5.1 HD Master Audio - but with only French subtitles.
In short - both BLU RAY reissues have *NO ENGLISH SUBTITLES* of any kind for this Lebanese language film. The picture quality on both BLU RAYS is gorgeous but it's a damn shame someone doesn't release this lovely film for the English-speaking world on a BLU RAY we can actually use...
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