… While Watching “Caramel”


I would like to start this post by saying that I can imagine very few people enjoying this film. For those of you who have never seen it, I am going to summarise it in the next paragraph. This is what is known as a spoiler, in the sense that it could spoil the viewing pleasure of those who wish to approach the film with no prior knowledge. If you think that is your case, please do not read further. If, however, you are curious as to what this film is about, and don’t mind knowing what happens, please continue reading. If you have already seen the film, and are curious to know what the Zaragoza Twins take is, please continue, also.


The original Arabic title is Sukkar Banat. This translates as “Sugar Girls” in English and it’s pretty obvious why they decided not to use this as the title of the film. There are probably at least three hundred and fifty Japanese porn films downloadable on emule with “sugar girls” in their title, and it brings to mind “Spice Girls”, doesn’t it, whether you want it or not.


Directed by one Nadine Labaki in 2007, it deals with the varying fortunes of four youngish Lebanese women. It’s interesting in that it portrays a side of Beirut that we Westerners don’t usually get to see; we automatically think of Islamic fundamentalists, Hezbollah, wars with Israel, bombs and fanaticism, where women are reduced to black-gowned, repressed, frustrated non-entities who spend their time ululating as their sons and brothers blow themselves up in shopping malls trying to become martyrs.


First of all, there’s Layale. She’s beautiful and in love with a married man who is obviously just messing around with her and everybody knows it except her. Well, she ought to know it, too, because she’s played by Nadine Labaki, the director, but there you go.


Then there’s Nisrine, about to get married, terrified that her future hubby will realise that she’s not a virgin.


And there’s Rima, who works with these two girls in a beauty salon. To cover all possible angles, the director makes Rima a lesbian, who has a crush on a client which is only culminated when she symbolically (hello?) cuts all her hair off.


And let’s not forget Jamale, who refuses to admit she’s getting old. Her pathetic attempts to convince those around her that she is still menstruating are actually the most touching points of the film.


Now. How on earth could I identify with this film, with these disparate characters, these Christian Arab women, these Lebanese one-offs that 99% of the film’s viewers must think, “Huh? What has that got to do with me?”


Well, you know, life is funny sometimes. Parallels appear in the strangest places. Leprechauns leap out of the most lop-sided keyholes. Serendipity is the science of the unexpected. Kismet isn’t a place, it’s a destination.


Watching Caramel the other day, I was frozen. Not that I felt chilly in any way (hey, come on, it’s July in Zaragoza, sweating is the norm, not shivering), but rather, as I viewed this movie, I felt gripped by the harsh claws of reality. This film was about ME and (perhaps, even more so) about my friends. Well, OK, it was more about me, but as this is my blog, not theirs, I feel justified to narrate their vicarious impressions.


The thing is, I felt that I was Layale. Like her, I am furtively in love with a member of the opposite gender who just happens to be married. She belongs to a superior social class, like Layale’s lover, and our brief encounters are tense and fraught, magnified by my own sick fantasies and permanently thwarted by the cruelty of the inevitability of what in Zaragoza and Beirut count as urbanity and decorum. It’s never going to happen, but we fool ourselves and sob into our pillows, putting on a smiling face when somebody comes to the door and sighing ghastly sighs when nobody can hear us.


My friend Manuel Zelaya is the tragic equivalent of Nisrine. He used to be the President of Honduras, would you believe, but has been ousted. He knows he’d be great if he could run for President again, but his people have turned against him. Or maybe not – maybe it’s just his parliament and the armed forces and his own political party… Can he prove to everybody, for once and for all, that he’s up the job, and that the fact that he’s already been President isn’t a handicap for his being President again? Does it really matter that he’s not a virgin, for God’s sake?


And Rima, the lesbian hairdresser, bears an uncanny resemblance to my friend Cristiano, who’s just signed for Real Madrid. What he really can’t understand is that everybody knew fine well he was gay when he was signed, so why the big fuss right now? He played along with the staged performance with Paris Hilton, he forked out a fortune contracting girls who swore he was a tireless stud, he has done his utmost to deny his “gay icon” status (even refusing to have breakfast with Guti) but, alas, the whole thing has backfired. Poor Cristiano is wrecked with self-loathing, and all because he daren’t just say to the wretched wardrobe doors those magic words of the Thousand and One Nights, so well known to the Sugar Girls of Beirut: “Open, Sesame!”


And let us not forget dear Jamale. As I watched the film, my friend Neil came to mind. It’s 30 years now since he uttered his immortal NASA words about a giant step for mankind, bla bla bla. Ever since, he’s been in a daze, poor guy. His friendship with Michael Jackson can’t have helped much (“Here, try this morphine,”) but the fact of the matter is that poor Neil has never really got over being the first man on the moon. Whenever I text him, he replies with some cliché about space, the final frontier, bla bla bla. I mean, come on, Neil, get your act together, you’re an old man, come to terms with it. But, no, he prefers to wallow in his moonwalk (thanks again, Michael, for nothing!)


So, all in all, Caramel is the kind of film you can only enjoy if you have the right friends, and when I say “friends” I don’t mean Facebook friends, I mean people that you don’t have to wonder if it’s OK to hug in public, I mean people that matter, and for me that means Manuel, Cristiano and Neil. If we were female and lived in Beirut, we’d run a beauty parlour and we would ROCK.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Buzz on July 6, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    Just a minor correction. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon 40 years ago, not 30, as you said. Unless, of course, you’re referring to Neil Pérez, the Zaragozan astronaut…..!


  2. Posted by zaragozatwins on July 6, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    I would have thought it was painfully obvious I was referring to Neil Pérez, you oaf. Who on earth is is this Armstrong person you have wilfully mentioned? Is he my friend? I thought not. It’s people like you who give blog comments a bad name. Kindly refrain from sullying these pages in the future, you name-dropping smug fascist do-gooder. Get back to your slimy Facebook den and leave us alone. A pox on you and all your wretched family! Yours lovingly, HEEN


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