When one might expect audiences to be utterly abuzz with Indy 4 mania, it cannot be ignored that the Sex and the City film is really what people, and by that I mean women, girls, their boyfriends and gay men, are talking about the most, despite its release being a week behind the latest Jones adventure (Indiana that is, not Samantha).
It might seem odd therefore that while the 19-year wait for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has given audiences a flavour of nostalgia, Sex and the City is still fresh enough for the story to be picked up right where it left off after its 3 year absence. Certainly a dead horse is still being flogged here, but this one has suffered far less decomposition and is wearing Manolo Blahnik hooves.
Not for a moment do I have any faith that the Sex and the City film will be worth seeing; although familiar with and regularly amused by the show I find it hard to believe that this will be any more than an exercise in commercialist audience-driven drivel. SatC lost its appeal when the three interesting girls (Carrie being too despicable a human being to deserve life support after a motor accident) all entered relationships with men who were far better written than they were, and far too good for them.
It is sad therefore that women in Ireland and Britain will be flocking in gaggles and gangs to SatC when what is likely to be the sweetest girl’s movie of the year, Caramel, is still in (albeit selected) cinemas.
Caramel, or “Sex and the Lebanon” as I’ve dubbed it, is a gorgeous little story about the effects of Lebanese culture and society on the women within it. Centred on a Westernised beauty salon, the four women whose story it tells bear their own similarities to the HBO girls on the other side of the world. Layale has dreams of finding the perfect combination of love and sex, but with a married man who can never really be hers. Nisrine is a sweet girl excited about her forthcoming marriage, and so willing to please her husband that she will go to extreme lengths to disguise that she is not a virgin.
With less crassness but just as much bite as SatC, Caramel is as much a satire on the cultural landscape of Beirut as it is on the strengths and weaknesses of women; all wrapped up in a sweet little package that looks absolutely gorgeous in sun-drenched natural colours.
Adding an extra layer to the film is a parallel storyline about a local elderly seamstress, Rose, who embarks on the first romantic episode of her entire life having spent her whole life looking after her sister, who is somewhat unbalanced but sweetness personified.
The story lacks any of Carrie Bradshaw’s pathetic puns and philosophical waxings (the only waxing done here is of leg hair), it is simply what it is, a lovely slice of women’s lives.
The soundtrack also adds a great texture to the film, and the considerable wit on display (a bickering couple in their car at night are arrested for indecency, a splendid moment of editing makes light work of a cringe-inducing medical procedure) is of a kind rarely seen in English-language features these days. Many of the finest moments centre on policeman Youssef, who is enamoured of Layale; in one scene he watches her on her phone through a window and imagines it is him on the other end of the line, later, having been shaved by her in the salon, he strokes his upper lip where his moustache once was with the delighted expression of a young teenager who, having shaved for the first time, remembers the softer skin of their childhood.
Perhaps most impressive of all is that the film was written and directed by the 34-year-old Nadine Labaki, who also plays the lead role of Layale. A remarkable achievement for her first feature film.
While the hordes can surely not be dissuaded from rushing to see Carrie and Co.’s feeble attempts to still be young, fabulous and relevant, perhaps some can be convinced to make a trip to see this too. So soon after Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, it looks as though honest stories from the Middle East may have more to say about women globally now than the collected adventures of a woman whose sole talent is to match her shoes and dress with a hat that looks like a triffid.