; movieschocolatebooks: May 2013


Friday, May 31

Class of 1999, my first VHS movie

Ladies and gentlemen, it brings back great joy and such fond memories to be talking about the first movie I watched on VHS, back in 1991: Class of 1999. Who would have known that my love for films was to be shaped by this apocalyptic B-movie? There must have been something enjoyable about it, since Class of 1999 (1990) gave birth to an undying passion and an ever-lasting admiration for The Seventh Art. And as this is a very personal post, I must thank my movie-loving father who had the boldness to spend the family savings on a VHS (Video Home System, for novices) rather than on a car.

This picture is worth a million happy memories: begging for money from mom and dad, to go to the street corner rental shop and get used, smelly, colourful video tapes, for which you got a free of charge, five-minute review from the shop assistant. And Irina Margareta Nistor's childlike voice and her great, vivid translations that were to remain imprinted on my memory and shape my career. Those were the days, my friends!
Back to the movie itself, Class of 1999 is a sci-fi picture about the gloomy face of education in a futuristic, apocalyptic America. Kennedy High, the worst high school in Seattle, is chosen by Dr. Bob Forrest (Stacy Keach, who is an albino with a strange haircut) from Megatech, the leading designer in military robotics/weapons defence, as the right place for the three teachers/robots (Pam Grier, Patrick Kilpatrick and John P. Ryan) to try to straighten up the students. You can't help loving the strangely dressed kids, the special effects or the bullet-fuelled madness. The school bus is in flames, the robots go insane and start killing the disobedient students and motorcycles run wild within the school premises. Anyway, the teenage hero, Cody Culp (Bradley Gregg) and his girlfriend and Principal's daughter, Christie (Traci Lind) save the day and smash the robots. 
Not only was I taken by the special effects, especially by the robots' green kind of blood, but I also liked the way their arms turned into machine guns and their cold wickedness. Given the age, I enjoyed Cody's rebellious temper and digged his girlfriend trendy turban; I didn't care much about the message of the film, the dialogues or the way it had been directed. Still in the accumulative phase, right? Today, despite the poor quality of the movie, Class of 1999 remains a dear reminiscence of the way we were back then and the beginning of my long and beautiful friendship with movies.
This trip down the memory lane is dedicated to my partner in crime, Catalin and to my intelligent, movie buff of a father. I can't wait to hear what you think of the movie and whether any of you remember Class of 1999.

Thursday, May 30

Another Year or Mike Leigh's aging gracefully

Another Year is a humane drama about the way we choose to grow old in our senior times- by gracefully embracing old age or ridiculously avoiding to accept decrepitude. Mike Leigh invites us to take a warm, close look at a nice married couple, the relationship between the two spouses and the way they relate to the rest of the world.

Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) are in their sixties; he’s a commercial geologist and  she’s an NHS therapist who live in the suburbs, tend to their veggie garden, have a rich social life and often meet friends over lunch, tea or dinner. They act as catalyst for the changes that occur in the lives of those around them, whether they are friends such as Mary (Lesley Manville) or Gerri’s depressed patient, Janet (Imelda Staunton). The unbalanced existences of those around them, even that of their son, reflect on the peaceful, content life that Tom and Gerri share. The most dramatic is Mary, a single, unhappy secretary, past her prime, longing for affection and drinking away her pain. Mary wrongs her friend, Gerri and is temporarily banished from the merry encounters until the latter takes pity on her reformed friend. She is the embodiment of loneliness and unhappiness and Leslie Manville's performance is powerful and touching.
However, Tom and Gerri's kindness and compassion seem slightly condescending and their inexhaustible resourcefulness is in constant opposition with the others' poverty, unhappiness and lack of perspectives. It is as if Mike Leigh was trying to tell us that happiness is the gift of the intellectual, financially stable representatives of the British society, an elite that can afford to be generous and liberal. The same discrepancies are obvious in the depiction of the two brothers' homes: that of Tom is cosy, bright and happy, whereas his brother, Ronnie (David Bradley) has a bleak, mute, shabby house. Do all these people belong to the same world? Are they all entitled to be happy or is marital bliss measurable to social status? Choices seem to elude people such as Mary or Ken, an old friend of Tom's and appear to be available for the rest of the world only. 

In a word, Another Year is an emotional, enriching, though saddening drama, a content look at the four seasons of life and the way people choose to feel about old age. The great performances, the peaceful rhythm of the film and the director's desire to aim for compassion make Another Year a movie worth watching. Whether we choose to make everyday life extraordinary or a dreadful experience, this is a slice of life.

Wednesday, May 29

Copie conforme/Certified Copy

Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder- this is the true essence of the film Copie conforme/Certified Copy (2010). We do not instantly fall in love with or come to appreciate a work of art for its originality, for being genuine, but for the emotions it triggers in our soul, so whether we look at an original painting or a certified copy, it makes no difference in terms of the beauty we feel within our hearts. A thing is beautiful not because of some intrinsic physical feature it possesses but because of the likes, preferences and sensitivity of the person looking at the object. It is the same with reality and fiction and, in his film, Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami plays with the duality of life and and marvels at the way people joggle with their feelings and relationships.

Copie conforme/Certified Copy is a challenging and enticing movie that takes the viewer out of his comfort zone and makes him question some important issues such as the nature of life or of love itself. It is the story of a day-long conversation between James (William Shimell), an English author and an unnamed French woman (Juliette Binoche), owner of an antique shop in Tuscany, where James stops to give a lecture, as part of his book tour. James's book argues the idea of originality and its message is “Forget the Original, Just Get a Good Copy.” Being genuine is less important than the personal meaning of a work of art, whether it is original or a good copy; it is all about the feelings you experience by looking at it rather than the value of being the real thing or an accomplished copy.

Miller and the woman meet later at her shop but decide to get some fresh air and end up in the small town of Lucignano where they visit museums and discuss the importance of authenticity. Later on, they go to a cafe, and while the man goes outside to talk on the phone, the old woman who runs the cafe, thinking Miller is the woman's husband, gets into a conversation with Juliette Binoche's character about marriage and about him specifically, and the woman immediately plays along. From this point on, the relationship between the two takes the shape of a stale marriage, with accusations and reproaches, blaming and bitterness. The viewer becomes puzzled at the air of mystery wrapping the elaborate game the two are playing and it is neither plain nor obvious whether this is reality or fiction.

The movie is also exquisite in terms of the manner of being filmed, with the camera following the characters on the narrow streets, in cafes or churches, with different angles that fill the space between Miller and the woman, but also lingering on the faces of people they meet, faces that hide unspoken dramas. It is colourful and tricky, leading the viewer to make false assumptions about the main characters and the tourists they encounter in the town of Lucignano. It is also authentic in the way the characters talk directly to the camera: William Shimmel -an opera singer- cold, reserved, impeccable and Juliette Binoche -vibrant, complex, feminine. His choice of actors illustrates Abbas Kiarostami's intention to deepen the gap between the two characters and that between reality and fiction. Despite being ambiguous and emotional, Copie conforme/Certified Copy is an open invitation to self-analysis that only the bold dare to take; it is not a mainstream movie to everybody's liking but a gem on complex relationships that is to be revealed to the patient ones. Our relationships are themselves original copies not only of the ones we had before and of the way we were, but also of the new, undisclosed human beings we promise to be.

"The great majority of us are required to live a life of constant duplicity. Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike, and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune".  Boris Pasternak

Saturday, May 25

MACARONS are to die for

Satisfaction of senses is a much desired state of mind, difficult to reach and short-lived. I should know, as I am difficult to please when it comes to deserts and most of the times, chocolate is the ultimate lure. But tonight of all nights, I have met my match: MACARONS. Pink, beige, green and yellow, soft, round, light, airy, intoxicating Macarons, meant to enchant my senses and to enthral my heart.

I don't know about you, but when I fall for something, I like to find out as much as possible about my object of interest. So, these delicious, sweet, colourful Macarons, whose name is derived from the Italian name for meringue, are the French round, smooth confections with a moist middle. They come in all flavours from the more traditional ones, such as chocolate or raspberry, to foie gras or matcha fillings. The discs are made of almond meringue and they can be filled with jam, ganache or buttercream. Either way, they are just too good to pass. People find them so addictive that, in France, they have dedicated them a museum in the city of Montmorillon, where the Maison Rannou-Métivier, the oldest macaron bakery in town, dating back to 1920, is located.

My Macarons are not French by origin, but exquisite by taste. My friend, Linda, the best macaron confectioner in town, is simply gifted at making the right, soft meringue with strawberry, chocolate, green apple and lemon filling. If my mouth, my eyes, my nose and my heart were deeply satisfied, then she is to blame. This delicate French confectionery is one of the most sophisticated things I have ever tasted and one of the most eclectic deserts to ever try. It is not only about the flavours or the taste, it is the symphony of sensations that fill you palate and dazzle your taste buds.

Miracles do happen and tonight, I betrayed my loyalty to Lindt chocolate and indulged myself in the sweet charms of Macarons. And, since all good things come in small, but expensive packages, let me tell you that these lovely confections are dear but worth every penny. My word of advice to you all: Don't be cheap or moderate, be bold and step out of line! MACARONS are to die for!

Thursday, May 23

Books in movies

Whether inspired by or chosen as an excuse to marvel at some intriguing ideas, movies often rely on famous books to capture the writer's story in a cinemathic vision. Here are some of the movies- animated, short or feature- that drew my attention in a soul-touching manner, in which books are, above all, the main character.

Fahrenheit 451 (1966). This is François Truffaut's first English-language picture inspired from Ray Bradbury's sci-fi novel. In a distant future, books are burnt -contrary to Bulgakov's opinion that "manuscripts don't burn"- by firemen so book lovers take upon the task of becoming themselves a book they learn by heart and recite endlessly. Minds can neither be confined nor denied freedom, so what book would you like to be?

The Name of the Rose (1986), starring Sean Connery and young Christian Slater, is inspired by Umberto Eco's first novel. It is a murder mystery that revolves around the power of laughter meant to free the mind and enlighten the spirit. Inquisition and human curiosity collide in a battle of right and wrong or ignorance and logic. It is a display of great performances, authentic atmosphere and a taste of medieval times that masterly recreates the story within Eco's book.

The Hours is a 2002 drama film directed by Stephen Daldry, and starring Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Ed Harris. The novel Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is the book that connects the lives of three women from different times and social backgrounds. These are Clarissa Vaughan (Streep), a New Yorker throwing a party for her AIDS-stricken friend and poet, Richard (Harris) in 2001; Laura Brown (Moore), a housewife with child in the 1950s, trapped in an unhappy marriage; and Virginia Woolf herself (Kidman) in 1920s England, who, while struggling to write her novel, faces depression.

Life of Pi (2012) is an unbelievable story meant to be turned into a book. I can only imagine how challenging might be for a writer to find the courage to put on paper such an amazing story of redepmtion, faith and survival. Some stories are too powerful, with a life of their own and it takes a bold heart and a skillful hand to make them immortal. Check my review here.

The Help (2011) is about doing the right thing despite unwritten social rules and discriminating, judgemental life choices. Skeeter (Emma Stone) is an independent white girl who puts on paper the story of unseen, ignored black housemaids who have been mistreated all their lives. The success of the book brings a few good laughs and the validation these women have been deprived of their entire existence. It is a movie about a book that binds three women forever in a relationship of friendship and hope.

Misery (1990). Obssessive love for books and their characters can turn you into a frightening, abusive number one fan. Annie Wilkes's empty life weaves around the character of Paul Sheldon's most successful novel -Misery- and after she saves his life, feels she is entitled the honour of being written a novel. This is an American thriller film, based on Stephen King's 1987 novel, with outstanding performances. It will defintely make your Friday night a spooky one!

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore is a short animated film about the joy of reading. Mr Morris, a book lover, is swept away by a storm and dragged into a black and white land where he wanders hopelessly until a beautiful flying woman gives him her favourite book. Guided by the character of the book, he enters the local library and everything blooms in colour. Winning an Oscar in 2011 for best animated short, this movie is a celebration of books and an endless invitation to read them over and over again, in an attempt to keep them alive.

Adaptation is a 2002 American drama about two twin brothers, a script, writer's block, a swamp, shooting, death, arrests and finally resolution. Sometimes, writers need to experience a little drama in their lives so that they can be prolific in writing. Chris Cooper won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, while Nicolas Cage (Actor in a Leading Role) and Meryl Streep (Supporting Actress) were nominated for their performances, which accounts for the movie's success and overall positive audience rating.

Books are too important to miss, journeys that need to be taken if we want to enrich our lives and broaden our horizons. Great movies are usually inspired from great books but may also be used as the best opportunity to plead the cause of reading.

 “Books are to remind us what asses and fools we are.”  Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Sunday, May 19

Dogtooth will rock your world

To what extent would you go to protect your children? Where do you draw the line between being a cautious parent and an insane, perverse control freak? Is the human being submissive by nature or inquisitive to the bone? These are the fundamentally vexed questions that Dogtooth raises. And, let me tell you from the very beginning that this is, by far, one of the most bizarre and challenging movies I have ever seen- my shocker of the year, so far.

Dogtooth, the Greek film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, is about an isolated family with three teenage children, living on a remote, confined property. The two girls and the boy follow the absurd rules set by the father, working as a factory manager, and the mother, the housewife that takes care of them daily. They live cut off from the rest of the world, constantly reminded that they are to leave the house when they lose their dogtooth. The father pays Christine, a security guard at the factory where he works, and takes her to the house, on a blindfolded journey, to have sex with the boy. When the arrangement no longer works, the parents decide to let the son, also blindfolded, choose which sister seems more suitable to replace Christine. The elder daughter silently obeys the decision and after reluctantly sleeping with her brother, dances madly and once everybody has gone to sleep, repeatedly hits her teeth with a dumbbell to take off the canine. Afterwards, she hides in her father's trunk for the rest of the night and travels with him to the factory yard. Will she come out of the car and find the courage to step into a world under the imminent danger of the ferocious, mighty cat? Or has she been too abused into blind submission and needs further guidance?

Jacques Rivette, one of the more experimental of the French New Wave directors, believed that the purpose of the cinema was to remove the viewer from his comfort zone and throw him into reality. Dogtooth is a powerful movie that shakes your cosy little world and makes you wander how twisted we are and how easily we can come up with excuses for ourselves. There is absolutely no love in the eyes of the abusive parents who occasionally beat their children and submit them to the oddest treatments. They go to outrageous extent to keep them safe, messing them up in ways that are beyond understanding; however, the movie implies that, despite the most dreadful confinement, there is an inner need for sexual exploration and a constant urge for freedom in every human being.

The movie makes you think of a wild, perverse experiment meant to shock your senses; there is frontal nudity and sex, deprived of any shred of intimacy or sensuality, robot-like behaviours, scenes of violence and abuse and a mixed feeling of sadness and repulsiveness. It is as if the whole movie lacks purpose and rhythm. The absurd situation reminded me of films such as M Night Shyamalan's The Village or Peter Weir's The Truman Show, which also displayed artificial environments meant to keep the people safe and prisoners, at the same time. It is in ourselves to try to control the young minds and shape them according to our morality and standards; it is also up to us to choose a more innocent Santa Claus approach or to traumatise them, by taking more pleasure in the process rather than in the outcome. If, above all, Yorgos Lanthimos tried to get the viewers to question themselves and the world around them in the most provocative and dysfunctional manner possible, then, as far as I'm concerned, mission accomplished!

Friday, May 17

My Blueberry Nights

This movie won't leave you breathless, nor will it turn your movie watching night into a memorable one, but it will definitely make you wish for blueberry pie with ice-cream. And just as Caramel's opening scenes melt into the yellowish shades of the decadent desert, Wong Kar-Wai’s first English picture makes a mouth-watering intro into the world of blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream. It is not the first time food, especially desert, is used in a metaphorical way in movies since there has always been a sensual relation between the sweetness of love and that of savoury dishes.

The story is as easy as pie: girl with broken heart cries on the English shoulder of boy, who mesmerises her with his curly hair, perfect smile and blueberry pie; not ready to move on, girl embarks on a road trip across America in search of lost self and encounters other tormented souls. Blueberry pies easily grow into addiction so Elizabeth - the girl- cannot stay away forever since her heart sinks at the prospect of more desert and romance. Healing takes time and distance but Elizabeth and Jeremy (Jude Law) do not grow apart and keep in touch by wistful postcards.

The people Elizabeth (Norah Jones) meets are as bruised and emotionally damaged as she is and each story is about a sort of addiction: to smoking, to drinking or to gambling. Eating blueberry pie seems to be the least harmful pleasure you can indulge yourself in. The heartbroken cop, David Strathairn, and his former wife, Rachel Weisz, then the compulsive gambler, Natalie Portman draw Elizabeth's mind into different directions and help her overcome her grief and find her path. At least, this is the message though her performance lacks strength and is predictable to a certain extent. However, despite the slow pace, the lazy dialogues and the inability to get the viewer to connect to the plot, the movie has a great soundtrack that melts into the gooey blueberry pie and ice cream.

One image that will stick forever to my mind is that of Elizabeth sleeping, her lips slightly parted and covered in a drizzle of cake that are so inviting and sensuous. As far as the trip she takes across America, I believe the director is better at bringing interiors to life rather than painting the outdoor; so the glimpses of the cities Elizabeth travels to, do not have the strength of the room corners or walls that throb with emotion in In the mood for love, one of his previous pictures. It may not be Wong Kar-Wai’s best movie so far but it makes a good choice for mellow nights in, when you would rather pass up the chance of painting the town red. 

Tuesday, May 14

Paradise by Toni Morrison

To a certain extent, reading a new book is like enjoying good chocolate for the first time; it is a thorough process that requires you to be patient and open to the unexpected. Not every book might be to your liking, as it is the case with chocolate flavours, but if you are fortunate enough, you will find an idea, a character, a description, a style, a story that will remain imprinted on your mind and soul forever. So that when you close the book or put away the wrapping of the chocolate, that special feeling still lingers on. Toni Morrison is a writer that will not fail your expectations and her books are bound to enrich your emotions and unfold unforeseen worlds to your mind eyes.
This is one of her most appreciated books, since winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 that focuses on some of her recurring themes: past versus present, old against young, men against women, conformity versus rebellion. The one thing that I liked most about this fresh book is the idea of forgiveness and redemption; holding a grudge or loathing someone gives that person strength over you and you will not find your peace by constantly holding on to the past, but by letting go of all hate and bad blood. But how can you overlook rape, murder and broken heart?

One morning, the men of Ruby decide to take care of the handful of women residing in a former convent outside the small Oklahoma town and leading a life of sexual freedom, independence and boldness. One by one, the women are killed in defence of "the one all-black town worth the pain," bearing the blame for all the malicious, unjustified actions and happenings that seized the life of Ruby's inhabitants. Then the novel goes back on the women of the Convent, drawing a vivid portrayal of each of them and the way their lives interweave with those of the men and women of Ruby. Connie is brought to the Convent as child by Reverend Mother Mary Magna and starts drinking heavily after Mary Magna's death. Then, there is Mavis, a housewife who runs away after accidentally killing her young twins. She is constantly fighting Gigi, an independent, attractive woman who has an affair with K.D. that ends badly. Seneca is abandoned in her childhood and after living in several foster homes, ends up at the convent, sharing a room with Gigi and secretly cutting herself. Pallas (Divine) Truelove comes from a rich family and runs away with her boyfriend who, later on, leaves her.

The few important families in Ruby -The Morgans, The Catos, The Fleetwoods- go way back to the first settlement of the town, throughout the changes that both people and place underwent from the birth of Haven to New Haven and finally to Ruby. Their transitions and loss of identity have thrown people of Ruby off the scent and the elders oppose the change and the new ways of the young. Their confined world where only those with the blood of the original fifteen families are allowed to mate and live is far from the paradise they have been trying to recreate. To them, the killing of the women living in the convent is an attempt to trigger the change they desire. However, it is their subsequent regret, blame and fear that bring the change but the price they have to pay is losing their beloved paradise.  
The book has a rather complicated structure, with flashbacks and alternative voices, but its rich elegant style uncovers the mystery of Morrison's exquisite writing. It is a work of magic realism, where reality melts in a magical and mysterious realm. The Convent is a timeless place, where life follows other rules, where redemption soothes the lost souls of the women and where there is no racism, misogynism or prejudices. It is a place similar to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Macondo, the village hidden in the deep jungle, where time stands still or gallops by, where magic is the very air the people breathe and the very law by which they live. This place of refuge empowers the women living there and it is scary to the proud men of Ruby who crave and fear the savage creatures. They cannot tame them so they try to defeat them and steal away their heaven; but the women's bodies are never found and their apparitions to the people of Ruby are a symbol of their never-ending search for fulfilment.

For novices who want to get familiar to reading magical realism books and to the art of chocolate eating, visit http://www.oprah.com/oprahsbookclub/Magical-Realism-How-to-Read-It and one of my favourite blogs http://chocolateandzucchini.com/archives/2010/03/chocolate_tasting_how_to_taste_chocolate.php

Sunday, May 12

The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer

I find it fascinating to read about women who get empowered when they become displaced from their comfort zones; Julie Summers is a white woman who has no apparent purpose in her own wealthy world and who falls in love with an Arab man, whom she follows to the end of desert where her limited horizon widens, under the scorching heat. The Pickup is supposedly the love story of two people trapped between two antagonistic worlds, a rich novel that explores notions of race, culture, personal freedom or identity.

Julie's car breaks down so she ends up in a garage where she gets her car fixed by Abdu. She is struck by his unusual appearance so she picks him up and they start a relationship that seems to be doomed from the beginning since Abdu, the mechanic, is an illegal immigrant. Julie is a PR professional who comes from a well-off family and has a mind of her own. She introduces him to her friends and to his father and his second younger wife, disregarding their obvious reactions to the inappropriate relationship. Eventually, Abdu is forced to return to his nameless native country and faced with the perspective of losing him, Julie decides to marry him and follow Abdu to the country he loathes. They marry in haste and travel to a poor Islamic village where meeting his large and poverty-stricken family humiliates Abdu and grows into an adventure for Julie. While Abdu/Ibrahim searches for legal asylum, Julie falls in love with the remote, arid land and her husband's family and way of life. Each rejection fills the man with resentment and frustration and Abdu (now Ibrahim) is astonished when Julie starts working alongside the other women in the family, thus acknowledging that she has found purpose in her aimless life. The final blow comes when Julie refuses to join her husband to America, the land of opportunities that doesn't discriminate against immigrants from all over the world.

Nadine Gordimer, a fervent supporter of personal freedom and a restless fighter against apartheid, has now taken the opportunity to reflect upon the post-apartheid changes and the way they affect the African society. Her characters are portrayed with subtlety, the descriptions are amazing and she has a fine eye for the details that shape the relationship between two different people. This is not a happy love story of two people who overcome race and class differences and who are drawn to each other's dissimilarities; on the contrary, Abdu/Ibrahim and Julie have nothing but one thing in common: sex. This is the universal language that binds them and that seems to function regardless of their unspoken truths, location or hardships. It is the ultimate form of communication that fails to bring them closer in spirit and in choices. The man is anxious to escape the world of poverty that limits his aspirations whereas the independent, 29-year-old white South African, emancipated woman falls in love with the desert and binds her heart forever to this desolate land. 

Journeys are always bound to bring change and accomplishment; Julie's trip to the end of the world hasn't deepened the love for her husband but grew into a more powerful feeling for the remote land and its people. Is their love going to survive change and bring Abdu/Ibrahim back into Julie's arms or is he going to leave his wife behind, in this impoverished country? Has Julie's initial rebellion and search for the meaning of life come to an end? Nadine Gordimer's elegant writing offers no blunt answer to these dilemmas but who wants to read about flawless heroines and supermen? Her characters are not inviting in terms of affection or empathy but the reader feels slowly drawn to the simple style and the richness of the personal interactions. In life, we do not always need other people or love to define ourselves, we need to complete our personal journey that will reveal our true nature and purpose in life.

Thursday, May 9

Caramel and Nadine Labaki

Caramel is a sensuous combination that makes you think of decadent sweets or passionate deserts. It has a shiny texture and a yellowish-brown colour that mesmerises the eye and bewilders the smell.
Written and directed by, and starring, Nadine Labaki, the film Caramel (whose name refers to the women's way of waxing, at the beauty parlour) is a portrayal of five women's trials and tribulations of adulthood in Beirut, Lebanon. The owner of the salon, Layale, is a Christian young woman having an affair with a married man, Nisrine, a Muslim bride, fears the reaction of her future husband towards her loss of virginity, Jamale is an actress desperately faking her signs of ageing, Rima is attracted to other women and Rose gives up her final chance to happiness to take care of her almost senile sister, Lili.

If Pedro Almodovar were to take Steel Magnolias and rework it into something a bit less maudlin, and relocate the action to a Beirut beauty shop instead of the American South, the outcome might resemble Lebanese director and star Nadine Labaki's debut feature.

Caramel's Si Belle hasn't got the shabby-chic look of Truvi's beauty parlour in Steel Magnolias and neither are Labaki's female characters as driven and twisted as Almodovar's stubborn women, but it is still a place where the ladies meet to gossip, freshen up and socialise. The movie praises the power of female friendship and comfort of intimate, honest relationships, as opposed to a judgemental, traditional society. There is a dual world where Labaki's women live; one is the confined, yet free, life of the salon and the other is the outside, brutal reality. The film implies that a metamorphosis is possible for these strong women who turn out to be inventive and resourceful when it comes to making a compromise between their personal dreams and real life.   
The sweet, yet painful mixture women use to sooth their skin after getting rid of the unwanted body hair is a metaphor for the both happy and challenging times in their lives. There is promise in every interaction these five women have with the every day religious and social pressures and despite the difficult decisions they have to make, they struggle to find their own path and chance to happiness. Caramel is a warm comedy that depicts the fragile balance the women try to keep between following their hearts and abiding the religious and social rules. The performance of the five actresses is the main attraction of the movie, since some of them are first time performers who manage to complete the structure of the film in a touching manner.

Caramel is full of optimism and charisma, the story of the friendship of five women whose lives are not easy to live but theirs to fight for. These women share a secret solidarity that gives them the strength and the humour to overcome the difficult times in their lives. Maybe a caramel waxing and a hairdo are not always the best remedy to disappointment and sadness but friendship goes beyond religion and social discrepancies in this mix of Christian and Muslim worlds.

Wednesday, May 8

Where do we go now?

Nadine Labaki's musical fable speaks of the tense relations between the Christian and the Muslim dwellers of a remote village, surrounded by deadly mines. This small village belongs to no specific country but it is used, by the talented director, as an allegory about the lack of religious and political tolerance. Where do we go now? is also a movie about the surviving power of love that drives the women to extreme, cunning gestures meant to keep all inhabitants safe and in peace.

It is funny how women meet, gossip and devise elaborated schemes to keep their men -sons, husbands, fathers, uncles- in the dark about the political turmoil outside their remote village that might inflict severe suffering on them all. Women dance, mourn, cook, clean, take care of their men's needs and even hire Ukrainian dancers to keep their minds off the religious strife. The only sane, enraged men are the priest and the imam, who try to appease both sides' anger and go along with the women's sabotaging of the village radio and wasting of the village TV. There is a kind of shared familiarity and hidden agenda among the women who go in cahoots to keep the accidental death of a young Muslim a secret. It all sums up to this universal concept that if a man is kept satisfied and cleverly given a false sense of control, he will not waste his energy on other things.

The film has its sparkling moments, some of the scenes contain sensuous movements and the procession of dancing women dressed in traditional black clothes that opens the movie, though it makes the viewer think of a comedy, is rather sad. Humanity and loss bind them regardless of their religious views and their immediate happiness is more important than whatever happens outside the boundaries of their little oasis. The movie alternates between traditional and modern, light and dark, opposite views and female solidarity, all under the veil of music, dance and love. Where do we go now? is also full of witty humour, especially in the scenes where the bus of prostitutes arrives to town and they start showing their almost naked bodies around the horny men or the scene where the men all lay ecstatic after having eaten the pot cookies.

This is Nadine Labaki's second movie and although it hasn't reached the success of Caramel, this film is tangible proof of her talent and sensitivity, an attempt to speak of the women's multiple roles and their driving force. It is a feel-good comedy of manners in which the director herself plays Amal, a widowed Christian, running a cafe and secretly coveting a Muslim handyman, played by Julien Farhat. Where do we go now? is colourful and funny, full of energy and, even though the women's efforts sometimes seem less credible or likely to succeed, it is Labaki's ambitious faith in the force of women and their need to feel empowered that instantly draws your attention.

Sunday, May 5

Ces amours-là/ What War May Bring

Ces amours-là is a film that celebrates Claude Lelouch's 50th year as a filmmaker, an homage the director paid to the magic of cinema, a movie that illustrates his genuine gaiety in film-making. This 43rd movie is a pastiche of Claude Lelouch's former creations, an emotional display of the music that always played a significant role in his movies, the love he managed to capture in all his pictures and some of mankind's most dramatic moments.

Love is the recurring theme of many of Claude Lelouch's movies and Ces amours-là is no exception. Love binds the destinies of men and women, regardless of times and the absurdity of Second World War, crossing the social and moral boundaries. It is a mixture of feelings and emotions, a movie about love and war and about the director's dreams and demons. Ilva Lemoine (Audrey Dana) is a woman who gives her heart away too easily, so she has to suffer the dire consequences of her choices. Falling in love with a German officer almost gets her publicly humiliated but she is saved at the last minute by two good-hearted American soldiers, Jim and Bob. Their honest menage-a-trois ends up badly since Jim shoots Bob to be with her and eventually, consumed with guilt, gets her to shoot him. Ilva stands trial for her husband's death and her exceptional lawyer/pianist gets her free and makes her his wife.
Described as "an overview film" by Lelouch himself, Ces amours-là is inspired by the director's own experiences and passions. Love comes under many forms and men and women stay true to their feelings even though sometimes we are destined to fall in love with the wrong people. I like the idea that we live one life, learning how to love and in the following one, we avoid the previous mistakes and do right by our loved ones. The movie is also asking the viewer some important questions related to the creative freedom and the choices we make that can either save our lives or roundly condemn our souls. Ilva's trials and tribulations sometimes seem opportunistic but she is honest in her choices and actions, suggesting that her love goes deeper than meets the eye.

 Ces amours-là may not be the best war drama ever, not even the best romance that made your heart beat faster, but it is rather a movie centred on the director himself as the main character, focused on his interests and fears. It is personal and honest and it sums up Claude Lelouch's love for music, life as it is and the cinema, as the most accomplished form of art to render his emotions and passion.

Saturday, May 4

Lindt Frohne Ostern

Swiss chocolate is the best, say experts. Lindt&Sprungli is, by far, the most exquisite of Swiss chocolate, if you ask me. Easter is one day away and though there are some shameless prices for chocolate these days, it just breaks my heart not to spoil myself rotten. Bunny's treat, off course.

The beauty above is a 212 g box, filled with Easter eggs in three flavours: hazelnut, nougat and milk. I got instantly drawn to the pretty spring colours, even though I am perfectly aware that the wrapping makes more than half of the price. Well, I don't need to be cheap, though....it's Easter, after all. So, back to the lovely 12 g eggs who smell and taste just great, underneath the coloured foil. They contain 30 % cocoa and 44 % filling and are soooo addictive. Once you've opened the little box, you're doomed!  
The assorted little eggs are nice and thick and taste deliciously cream,y but you know me, I am a big fan of Lindt's milk chocolate so I feel totally biased when it comes to this brand. I'll keep this review short, and since it's time for Easter treats, I wish you to indulge yourselves in guilty pleasures, without once thinking about the number of calories or crazy diets. Enjoy the Lindt Frohne Ostern experience and have yourselves a Happy, Chocolaty Easter!

Wednesday, May 1

The Museum of Innocence

There is a promise in every book you read, there is splendour to be found in every page and emotion in every character you encounter. There is a journey to take in every novel and a shred of your soul that you leave among the closed pages. The Turkish laureate of The Nobel Prize, Orhan Pamuk has made his fictional museum that inspired his novel, The Museum of Innocence, a reality. His book instantly captures the spirit and imagination of the reader, gently drawing him into a world of lost love and shattered dreams.

L'amour fou is every's writer favourite subject at a certain moment in his literary life and it is the driving force that shapes the life of Kemal, the main character in Orhan Pamuk's The Museum of Innocence. The novel masterly explores the erotic obsession of a young man who, besotted with a shop girl, spends more than 8 years of his life, chasing her around Istanbul. Kemal, a 30 years old rich man, meets Fusun, an 18-year old distant cousin, a few weeks before he is to be engaged with Sibel, a woman of the same social status. Kemal discovers that he is madly in love with Fusun, and for the next 44 days until the Hilton engagement party, they make love every day between 2 and 4 PM in the Merhamet Apartments. As the days go by, their love grows deeper, leaving an imprint on their bodies and souls, creating a bond that makes them realise that they cannot live without one another or love any other person. However, Kemal proceeds with his formal engagement and after the party, Fusun and her parents vanish into thin air. From that time on, Kemal spends almost 9 years, longing for her, waiting for Fusun to return to him, gathering small objects that soothe his heartache and remind him of her.

The first part of the book is a vivid depiction of Kemal's easy, sparkling, idle life when although engaged to Sibel, he indulges himself in the pleasure of loving Fusun every day, for 44 days. The engagement party, colourful and luxurious, puts an end to his affair with Fusun who disappears without trace. Kemal's agony begins when he realises she is the only woman he has ever loved and the one he truly wants as a wife, so he spends the next 6 months, desperately searching for Fusun. After breaking off with Sibel, his turmoil and anguish come to a sudden end when he gets a letter from Fusun, inviting him to their house in Cukurcuma, a poor neighbourhood of Istanbul. He is shocked to find her married to a film writer and totally ignorant of his feelings. So he spends the next eight years, having dinner with Fusun, her husband and her parents or going out with them, as the rich cousin willing to invest money in Fusun's husband's projects. During all this time, his obsession with collecting tokens and personal objects from Fusun's house deepens, giving birth to the idea of creating a Museum of Innocence.

Although tiresome and saddening, thoroughly detailed, Kemal' s love for Fusun grows from mere infatuation to blazing flame, eventually turning into a deep love, doubled by his perseverance and determination. He is a man with a mind of his own, whose suffering and patience are at length described by Orhan Pamuk, a writer whose female characters are one-dimensional, portrayed only by the men in the book; they lack depth and their only purpose is to help define the male personalities. In terms of social themes, the novel portrays the change of the Turkish society over the years, its struggle between modernism and traditional values, its political coups and Western influence, its sheer decadence and its rooted values. It is a world that fiercely judges young women who have sex before marriage, that values virginity and the submissive female ways.

The novel is more than a confession of a lovelorn, it goes beyond the boundaries of romantic literature, it is an experiment that Orhan Pamuk created in his attempt to capture the passage of time. There is a ticket printed in every copy of his The Museum of Innocence, that is good for one free admission to the museum in Istanbul. So the journey the reader starts by unravelling the love story of the 728 pages, keeps living in the steps of every visitor who enterthis personal museum -of cups, cigarette butts, china dogs, hair clips, even a quince grater, pictures- where time stood still, since Kemal's idea was to create “the greatest happiness a museum can bring: to see Time turning into Space.” However, Kemal's attempt to capture the lost past in the little representations of Fusun's memory did not help him create a future with the woman he loved. It is an unwritten rule that all tales of this ephemeral amour fou are short-lived, unrequited and sorrowful. But then again, who would like to find, in a book or a movie, the comforts of domestic life that keep the heart safe and the spirit dormant?