I went to the Lebanese film "CARAMEL" with low expectations--its popular description as a beauty salon comedy involving five women friends sounded a little lite for my taste. So I was surprised to find that the film moved me much more deeply than I expected. The first film of director and star Nadine Labaki, it's not just "Steel Magnolias" set in Beirut (which is fortunate, since I didn't care for that one or its ilk). Rather, the beauty salon setting, and the hot sweet caramel the women both taste and use for waxing, is a wonderful metaphor for the beauty, and suffering, and compromise, and dissembling that each finds necessary to survive. One alternately savors and languishes in an affair with a married man, while a local policeman gently pines for her; another, recently divorced, competes against younger women for acting jobs and struggles to tape together her tattering beauty; a Muslim woman, approaching her wedding day, resorts to surgical means to hide from her new husband that she is not a virgin; a lovely hair washer pines over a beautiful young woman who comes in just to submit to her ministrations; and a lovely older aunt who works as a tailor lightly flirts with the idea of romance with a handsome customer but is thwarted by the demanding, mentally disabled sister in her care.
The tenderness and loveliness with which their stories are conveyed made me ache. In fact, the stories are not so much told as lighted on; the film really is more a sort of meditation on what makes these women (and others like them) so lovely. Beirut, too, seems to embody a sort of patched-together, beaten beauty. I have to say, I found the film's charms so striking and ineffable that I searched around for some film criticism that might reflect a similar reaction and was frustrated, as I often am, that most of the reviews are written by men who, not surprisingly, didn't see the same things I did. I think men will enjoy this film, but it is really a celebration of women that will be best appreciated by women. It's hanging on at the Livingroom Theater in Portland--check it out.
The other film out there that I suggest you seek out is "SHINE A LIGHT," Martin Scorcese's concert film of the Rolling Stones. Though I'm not a diehard fan (as I expect Scorcese is), I like the Stones and loved the film. It's playing at the IMAX theater in the Bridgeport Shopping Center, and the sound is so terrific and the cinematography so admiring of these guys (and rightly so) that it's better than being there. They are all in the 60's, and their faces show their age--but you'd never guess it to hear them play or watch them move. Jagger, especially, is a phenomenon. If you are even neutral about the Stones, don't miss it.