On many levels I was positively surprised. Nadine Labaki is gorgeous and although omnipresent throughout the movie I didn’t tire of her sensuality or her strong screen presence. With her big brown eyes she reminded me of Penelope Cruz in the Spanish movie Volver, In fact the similarities with the work of Almodovar were striking. This was a movie awash with Mediterranean colours and sounds. A random story about women caught in tragic situations and surrounded by men who are mostly peripheral and two-dimensional. Other familiar elements were: Sex, the Catholic Church and the State. The latter is represented through our friendly but naïve police officer played by Adel Karam and his punishing colleagues. What were lacking were the socio-economical dimension and the political context. Time and place were kept possibly deliberately vague. The film is dedicated to Beirut but one angle of a street in Gemmayze is not representative of this intricate and complex city. Also humour which is intrinsic to the feature with Almodovar, often fails to shine through in Labaki’s movie. The only time you heard frank laughing in the audience was during the police custody scene which is as incredibly funny as it is realistic. Also while it is understandable that subtlety is required to reach the broadest audience possible in a society where sexual taboos still prevail, it somehow appears misplaced or miscalculated. I was hoping for the first Lesbian kiss in the history of Lebanese cinema, I was disappointed as it all ended with an unremarkable haircut already sported in real life by Nathalie Portman who is hardly a lesbian icon. There is less subtlety, though, in the roles given to foreigners. While the Egyptian appears as a morally corrupt receptionist the Elderly French gentleman is distinguished and caring (not to mention he inexplicably doesn’t appear to speak a word of Arabic). The Srilankan community make a cameo appearance on public transport only to utter the now characteristic ‘hello madam’ in a scene that adds nothing to the story. This is also the case of the religious procession, which ends up inside the hairdressing salon for no apparent reason. If this was meant to be surrealist it looked redundant and clumsy. At one point, as I stared again into another prolonged close-up of Labaki’s face, and the Lebanese public being what it is, I realised there was more happening in the audience than on screen with various ring tones going off and endless chit-chat. As in any good romantic comedy it all ended on a positive note in a supposedly traditional wedding with all the protagonists present, Muslims and Christians (surprisingly identified as such in contrast to many Lebanese movies) dancing around a feast in a picturesque setting..
For all my criticism I did generally enjoy it and felt that it could sit well with many art house European movies. Nadine Labaki deserves praise for attempting the challenge of creating a serious yet entertaining Lebanese movie and succeeding to a certain extent where others failed. My mother for her part did not like it. She was offended by the absurd religious procession but remained oblivious to the Lesbians.