Sunday, 25 May 2008


One of my old friends from Syria has recently moved to London. She stayed over at my place for a couple weeks before finding a flat and moving out. So far she has given me 2 wonderful gifts for my hospitality, both were visual feasts and I would have missed both if it wasn’t for her invite.

My friend unknowingly dragged me (and I have to admit that I was a bit cautious the first time so dragging is the word) to 2 non English speaking films! The first was in Persian* “The Kite Runner” and the 2nd was Arabic, “Caramel/سكر بنات”.

I have to admit that if I was on my own, I wouldn’t have chosen to watch either of the two, for me going to the cinema is a time to disconnect from the real world and lose myself for a couple of hours. I like the collective psyche that you get from watching a film at a movie theatre, the audience laughing, gasping and cheering together. Taking that into consideration, watching a film that appeals to a niche market wasn’t much my thing but my friend has asked me to accompany her, and I’m too polite to say no!

What I got as a result of my politeness was breathtaking! I will write at another time about “The Kite Runner” it deserves another take before I can comment on the film, suffice to say that it was close to being a spiritual experience not just a movie.

The 2nd film that my friend suggested, and I was a more willing companion this time, was “Caramel” or “سكر بنات”. A fellow blogger has already mentioned it here, and I’m happy that the film is getting some headlines as it is surely one to watch.

The story is very simple, it’s simple as life seem to be in a quiet Beirut street in a middle class area, everything goes by in its normal slow pass that is a trade mark of such neighbourhoods. A seemingly simple life at a seemingly simple time and the lives of four girls working at a beauty saloon with a satellite of characters surrounding them.

This simplicity is quickly dismissed once you’ve scratched the surface of the story! Tales of the forbidden and the unobtainable are tangled with the society’s views and taboos surrounding the female entity in our sunny orient.

Caramel, is a symbol of the simple act that all women are joint with, it’s sticky sweetness is that of a society’s view of what should be and not what is there. In it’s simple basis, it hides the painful differences that a woman have to suppress in order to fit into a structure that catalogues her in a rigid structure of looks, status, purity and sexual orientation; departing from that structure is not permitted and that same society has created the means to maintain this structure even by falsifying and masking the truth.

The simple/complexity of the story is mirrored in the langue used in the film, while the words are simple, common with no unnecessary pretence, the acting and the music complete the structure of the scene. One of the most breathtaking dialogues was with Rose sitting in front of her mirror preparing for the hope that arrived 30 years late only to be held back from her later day's dream by the ranting of Lili. You didn’t need words to read the conflict between duty and the simple hope for happiness. The words were redundant in that scene, the music was heart breaking and the acting was unbelievable.

The film touched on a number of challenging topics, some relevant only to our eastern society (purity, sexual orientation) and some relating to all women in all places and times, how the illusion of love can degrade someone, holding on to lost youth and how happiness is found in what we let go of rather than what we pursue.

I don’t know how a non Arabic speaker would rate this film, not being part of the culture, not understanding the usage of language that no mater how accurate the translation is, it can never convey the meaning of some of the words used. I know that for me and my friend, watching this film together at a west end cinema in London, we were transformed home for 90 minutes. In a way, I didn’t want it to end, I wanted to stay in that simple, sun drenched Beirut street and embrace more the different life that passes by there.

The last scene of the film was enchanting, crazy Lili gathering the discarded papers in the street with Rose, trying to find what a lost lover has written to her somewhere, sometime we don’t know about. How many of us walk through life chasing these pieces of papers? Never finding what we’re looking for but never giving up the search…

Caramel by director/actress Nadine Labaki

*Thanks Paolo!


saint said...

I did not see the movie Caramel, but I heard of it like you said from a fellow blogger and I have seen its clips on youtube. I was surprised by the quality, melodrama and most of all simplicity. I was intrigued to see Arabic movie could reflect from this real simple setting on all the oriental society in Lebanon and Syria. It reminded me with the great French movie back in 1975, 'Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus)' which was a masterpiece and the best love story movie of all time, for me at least.
Did I tell you Luma that my daughter Luma is upset because someone else has her wonderful name. cheers )

Paolo said...


very nice article. However, just a minor correction with reference to the word 'Farsi'. Apparently usage of Farsi in English language is incorrect - and should be Persian. Here is an article by an Iranian scholar titled "Iranian Identity Under Fire: An Argument Against the Use of the Word ‘Farsi’ for the Persian Language". Here is the link:


Syrian in London said...

Hello Saint
I highly recommend you see this film, it's very much worth it!
Please pass my salaam to Luma and tell her not to worry, there aren't a lot of us around :-)

Hi Paolo
Thanks for the correction, and glad that you liked the article

Arun Mylavarapu said...

Hi, Does the movie Caramel come with English subtitles, or is it in Arabic?


Syrian in London said...

hello Arun

sorry for the delay, the film comes with english subtitles and it's now one of the top 10 films in london!

hope you enjoy it and please tell me your opinion after you do

Pia said...

Hi there! It is amazing, I am googling since I don't know when to find blogs or forum discussions of Syrians in London. And you are the ONLY one that pops up everytime. Why I am doing that? My fiancee is Syrian and we plan to move to London in a year and a bit. Since I am European and have lived in England (I am German) I don't worry about me getting along there but I worry about him. It would be great if you could give me some thoughts on this, things we should consider etc, ANYTHING. And who would know best about how to start a life in London as a Syrian than another Syrian? Looking forward to hearing from you. Warm regards, Pia.

Syrian in London said...

hello Pia! happy that googling has led you to this blog, it's nice to see new faces here.
I've been in London for a little under 5 years initially as a student then working in The City.
During that time, I rarely felt a stranger in London, the city is such a composite of nationalities that there is no dominance to any belonging other than that to the city itself.
If your fiancée has a good command over English, I’m sure that he wont have any difficulty in fitting in the social network here. There are a number of expat communities of Syrians in London/UK and you do get some nice events that reminds you of home.
If he's missing home food he only have to go to Shepherd’s bosh, there is a very good Syrian restaurant near a very good Syrian supermarket where you can find anything that your heard desire of Syrian delights.

what else? if you want more personal notes, send me your contact details and i will be happy to give you a buzz and talk some more.