Friday, July 11, 2008

Caramel (2007)

The unofficial movie subgenre of Romantic Comedy Where All The Protagonists Work Together At A Beauty Salon has no shortage of product, and this Lebanese import is one of the most recent and, happily, one of the best. Nadine Labaki directs and stars in this charming tale, where women of all ages and persuasions engage in that universal search for love, without a hint of sappiness or melodrama. And while the women experience inevitable disappointments along the way, they face their challenges with strength, grace, and a good-humored outlook. Some even find the love they seek, and in surprising places. It's also surprising that a nation with as tortured a recent history as Lebanon could produce a film as humanistic and uplifting as Caramel. We wish Ms. Labaki and her creative team much success.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Malena (2000)

This well executed bildungsroman takes place during WW2, in one of those Sicilian seaside villages populated by hypocritical, hysteria-prone rustics. Monica Belluci plays Malena, a taciturn young war widow of ethereal beauty. She is stalked by Renato, a harmless pubescent who spends much of the film climbing Malena’s garden walls in hopes of catching a furtive glimpse of her in order to confirm some of the outlandish gossip he’s been hearing. As the wartime economy makes life tougher in the village, Malena finds she must increasingly degrade herself in order to survive. The villagers treat her with reverence at first, then contempt, and finally to a violent public humiliation. But the script still has a few surprise twists up its sleeve, and the film heads toward an unexpected conclusion. In all, this is an enjoyable and realistic look at teenage obsession and small town pettiness, and is just what you’d expect from the director of Cinema Paradisio.