What To Watch On Netflix Instant – Edition #31

Caramel (Lebanon, 2007)

This graceful Cannes-nominated film is about five women in Beirut, Lebanon, who work in or around a beauty parlor.

There is Layale(Nadine Labaki), a single woman, who is having an affair with a married-with-children man. We never see this man, we only hear his car horn honking as he comes to pick up Layale for their assignations. Another character Nisrine is to be married soon to her ultra-traditionalist beau, who has no idea that Nisrine isn’t a virgin.

Rima, quiet, stolid and tomboyish (we rarely see her in dresses) has feelings for a salon customer, a woman who comes often to get her long black hair washed and styled. Jamale, an aging actress, is a frequent visitor to the beauty salon, coming in to get made-up as she goes to her auditions, where she competes with younger beauties for roles. The fifth character Rose, is an elderly seamstress with a shop in the neighborhood. She also takes care of her senile sister Lily, and her care-taking duties somewhat impede her late-blooming love-life.

Caramel is a woman’s point of view; the director is the beautiful Nadine Labaki, who also essays the main role in the film. Each woman’s story gives us a little look-see into the trials and tribulations brought about by societal or gendered expectation of women and their “roles” in traditional society.

Sand Storm (“Sufat Chol”, Israel, 2016)

Set amid a Bedoin community in Israel, this Sundance-Award-winner starts with what appears to be a happy occasion. A glowering Jalila is hosting the wedding celebration for her husband Suliman’s second marriage to a younger woman. Jalila and Suliman’s college-going daughter Layla is pulled willy-nilly into the wedding preparations. Besides the simmering tensions, and angry accusations that fly between Jalila and Suliman during and after the wedding, there is also a new wrinkle – Layla’s affair with college-mate Anwar comes to light. Her mother is outraged and attempts to quash it. Vivacious Layla, quite a darling of her dad’s, thinks he will at least see her point of view, but what he offers her is anathema to her.

Sand Storm was quite moving; it showed the cruelty built-into social fabric, where the very customs and “traditions” are designed to pit woman-against-woman, fighting each other for power. Men like Suliman, indulge in the laxities that such customs allow men, and declare themselves powerless when it comes to perturbing the social order in a woman’s favor. We see Jalila struggle – should she stick to the safe and the known and threaten impetuous Layla into submission, even as she realizes that the deck is stacked against a female, ardent rule-follower though she may be? Educated Layla too is caught between concern for her mother and following her heart.

This film is not a fairytale, but the ending still surprised me.

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