Freeze Frame #128: Caramel

Towards the end of Caramel, Nadine Labaki’s debut feature that follows the fortunes of four women who work in a beauty salon in Beirut, is a moment of heartbreaking duplicity that conveys far more than it depicts.

It features Jamale (played with barely restrained desperation by Gisele Aouad), a has-been actress hoping for a second chance. You see her attending auditions, with her skin pulled back and held with tape to make it look tighter. There is a moment when it is noticed during an audition and you see her trying to maintain her composure while still standing before the camera. Labaki shows a good sense of timing here — she lets the scene go on just long enough so that we begin to squirm.

The movie ends with the wedding of another of the characters. During the party afterwards, Jamale tries to jump the queue outside the women’s loo by telling the others that she has her period. Once inside, she pulls out of her handbag some fake blood to dab on a piece of toilet paper and an empty wrapper for a sanitary pad, and dumps them in the trash bin.

Now, I’m a guy, okay? Admittedly the sort of guy who would watch a chick flick like Caramel in the first place, but this is usually the sort of material that comes under the heading of Too Much Bloody Information.

But I kept getting drawn back to Jamale’s face while she goes through this little routine. It is clear that she has done this before. But right then, it seems like one deception too much to handle.

The movies are so obsessed with closure sometimes. Thank heaven for moments like these that are created in the knowledge that,  by the time the movie ends, not everybody has gotten that far.


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