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Free Press Blog Writes About Labaki "Caramel" Movie: "I found a sister at a Lebanese movie"

posted on: Jan 27, 2008

By Oneita Jackson

Free Press Blogger

She’s Catholic, I’m Baptist.

She’s middle-aged, I’m a little younger.

She speaks Arabic, I speak Spanish.

I met the Lebanese-American woman at a movie premiere the other day, and before we left the theater we were calling each other “sister.”

That’s the cross-cultural appeal of the film “Caramel.” Everything about it is Lebanese — language, location, mood, cast — but it resonated with me, a chocolate Detroiter.

It’s the story of ordinary women in a beauty shop, yes. But writer-director-actor Nadine Labaki reveals their intricate relationships (premarital, extramarital, same-sex, heterosexual, familial) through well-sustained devices: satire (armored tanks sit next to adulterous lovers in their car as they grab some afternoon delight), subtlety (furtive glances between a gay shampoo girl and a customer) and humor (one woman tries to give herself a face-lift by taping the sides of her eyes upward).

Labaki flew from Beirut to be at the premiere in Birmingham and took questions and comments from the audience.

“You can get away with a lot using humor,” said the director, who has opened up dialogue in her country on taboo issues.

“I’m not Arab, I’m not Lebanese,” I said, no kidding, “but your film is very universal.” I told Labaki that any of the women in her movie could be my friends or any of the people I know — white women, Hispanic women, Middle Eastern women.

That’s how the woman sitting next to me and I connected, talking about the movie’s universal themes. Later, we deepened our connection by e-mailing each other.

“I had a child out of wedlock,” I told her, relating to a Muslim girl in the movie who was ashamed because she was about to get married but had already had relations.

“My mother almost had a heart attack when I told her I was pregnant,” I told her. Where I come from, that’s unacceptable.

She told me: “I also crossed the boundaries and put my family to shame, as I am divorced, and in our religion we do not divorce.”

We talked more about organized religion and stigmas, values and humanity, discovering we are kindred souls.

“We are sisters in humanity having not only the same color of blood and flesh but best of all a good heart that is full of unconditional love,” my new sister told me.

She shared with me a Lebanese proverb, which says in translation: “Blessed is the sister that is not born by your mother and father.”

I got it.