(Awards season) At the Movies: Revisiting recent Oscar snubs

  • Caramel for Best Foreign Language Film

So now, I’m discovering [the story’s] not specific, it’s more universal. I’ve discovered that human nature, human reactions, human emotions are the same everywhere in the world

– Nadine Labaki

Caramel is a 2007 Lebanese film and the directorial debut of actress Nadine Labaki. It tells the story of five women dealing with universal issues such as forbidden love, binding traditions, repressed sexuality, ageing, and duty vs. desire. Considered the most internationally acclaimed and exposed Lebanese film to date, it was Lebanon’s official submission to the 80th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.

Labaki dedicated Caramel to her own private Beirut, and that’s part of why it is such an interesting film: she chose to steer away from the common portrayal of a war-ravaged place, without making any significant mention of Lebanon’s political problems. Instead, she focused on a group of women trying to live their lives the way they choose to and find happiness and well-being. Everyday women dealing with everyday problems. One of them is a Christian who’s having an affair with a married man; one of them is a Muslim who’s about to get married but doesn’t want her fiancé to find out she is no longer a virgin; one of them is a wannabe actress struggling with aging; one of them is uncomfortable with her lesbian identity; and one of them is sacrificing her life to take care of her elderly sister.

The film’s title symbolically implies the “idea of sweet and salt, sweet and sour”, and those elements are definitely present in the women’s journeys, which are equally deftly explored with tact, humor, warmth and intelligence. They make a very compelling, strong story where Labaki paints an interesting picture of modern women in a conflicted society – one where a lone, unmarried woman can’t even book a hotel room for two without being suspected to be a prostitute – though her captivating, strongly written characters. By exploring female friendship and camaraderie that transcends differences in a very endearing way, she succeeded in making a bitter-sweet, charming – and fairly aesthetically pleasing, where the so pretty images can say so much without having any dialogue in them – comedy-drama that has a very natural feel and amusing humour. The actors’ performances are also very good, and that’s especially note-worthy considering all of them – save Labaki and Adel Karam – hadn’t acted in a film before.

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2 thoughts on “(Awards season) At the Movies: Revisiting recent Oscar snubs

  1. Good call, and a very good film. A bit of a departure for Cronenberg, but excellent to see how he allowed the plot to develop through actors talking to each other, trusting their body language and the things they said to keep it going instead of inter-cutting with superfluous action scenes e.g. some visual representation of their dreams.

    As for Keira Knightley, she really did shine in it. Quite something to come out of a film starring Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender as the most memorable performance, but then she stole it with the development of her character, the facial and bodily contortions in the early scenes of her hysteria blending into controlled poise, whilst the emotions are writ just as large.

    A shame about the Oscars snub, though in fairness I think the voting process within the Academy often has so little to do with the best work and performances that who gets it is rendered meaningless. This was the year that Meryl Streep won it for playing Margaret Thatcher, wasn’t it? Not a bad impersonation, not a patch on this, but then it’s Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher. It was a shoo-in.

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  2. There’s no denying there’s some real issues at the moment with the awards. And as you pointed out – it’s not just BLACK or WHITE. I had this discussion with a friend earlier about race and cinema. The idea of a black James Bond. Fair enough, but…what about an Indian James Bond? Or Hispanic? Or Asian? The awards highlight such issues even more, focusing so much on race….in many ways when clearly it should just be a case of the winner goes to ….whoever was the best, so open up the flood gates and start to recognize more films and talent from all over the planet. It’s mad isn’t it?

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