“Caramel”- A Comedy from Beirut

    “Caramel”, now in limited release, is a light comedy about the love lives of 5 women filtered through the activities in a Beirut beauty salon.  A female ensemble comedy set in strife-filled, war-torn Lebanon sounds like an oxymoron, right?  But this is really an entertaining film that’s worth seeking out.  It is the feature directing debut of Nadine Labaki, a veteran director of commercials and music videos.  In addition, she co-wrote the script and plays Layale, the beautiful owner of the salon.   This film has received one of the widest U.S. theatrical releases of an Arab film in years.   Go to the website for specific release dates: http://www.newamericanvision.com/Caramel.html

This film finished shooting weeks before the beginning of the Israel-Lebanon war in July of 2006.  Add that tension into the normal stress of completing a film!  Not that this film is about war, because it isn’t.  It is about the romantic intrigues of 5 women.  Only through glimpses of the crumbled infrastructure do we see the toll war has taken.  But these references become comedic devices, like the salon’s hand- cranked generator that’s fired up every time the electricity goes out.  This is because the director has great affection for her city and has dedicated the film “to my Beirut”.   Here Christian neighborhoods co-exist next to Muslim neighborhoods with their separate religious rituals and traditions.  This religious tolerance is reflected in the women’s friendships; some are Muslim, others are Christian, even Catholic.  One of the most incongruous sights was a priest-led parade of a large Blessed Mother statue winding its way through the streets of  Beirut right into the beauty salon for the shop’s annual blessing.

I found this film fascinating because we don’t often see the everyday lives of Arab women portrayed in film. What struck me were not the differences but the similarities in their lives and the lives of western women.  We think of Arab women as leading restricted lives, and mostly hidden behind yards of fabric.  The women in this film seemed independent, dressed in bright, stylish clothes and had strong, dynamic personalities, at times verging on campy, and somewhat reminiscent of the colorful women in Pedro Almodovar’s films.

The film is episodic, following 5 different story lines.  While the situations aren’t particularly original, setting them in Beirut gives the film its unique flavor.  Layale, the shop owner, is having an affair with a married man.  Because she is an unmarried Arab woman, she lives at home with her parents and shares a bedroom with her younger brother.  There is a lesbian character unable to live openly as a gay woman, who finds sensual pleasure shampooing the magnificent mane of an exquisitely beautiful customer.   One of the women is Muslim and about to be married.  Desperate to cover her past, she has minor surgery to restore the appearance of virginity for her wedding night. This type of surgery is not exclusive to Arab countries.  Not long ago, the Los Angeles Times ran a story about L.A. women going in for this very same procedure– promoted as a way to add a little spice to that special night.  No matter what culture, women can’t seem to escape the pressure to physically alter their bodies to please their men.

There is also the story of Auntie Rose an older woman working as a tailor while tending to her demented older sister; this sister thwarts Rose’s attempt to have a liaison.  Finally, there is a storyline of an older actress trying to appear younger and stay in the game.   As an actor who’s been on countless commercial auditions, I was laughing and wincing at the character’s clumsy attempts to appear youthful and radiant as she auditioned for a cosmetic commercial.

This film taps into what we all feel in searching for love – bliss, excitement, heartbreak, longing, frustration and jealousy.  Nadine Labaki has extracted fine performances from her cast and, with one exception, they are nonprofessionals.  So, kudos to this fine young director for discovering these “real” women and creating a wonderful ensemble piece that allows each of them to shine.  By the way the title refers to a depilatory method of sugar waxing with caramel.   You could see this as a metaphor for the things women do to look sweet for their men.  But it’s also an apt title for a film that is a bitter-sweet story about the strength of women’s friendships.
Jan Bina, blogger/In the Trenches Productions


Women Conductors: Her Baton Isn’t for Twirling!

Her Baton Isn’t For Twirling

In the ‘70’s, my father loved to tell the story about being aboard a commercial jet and discovering that the pilot was a woman. He’d relive his outrage and panic. He wanted to get off; he wanted a refund; he had to swallow all his “goof balls” (anti-anxiety meds) to survive the flight. My sisters and I could never determine if he told this story simply to get a rise out of us or, we wondered, did he actually believe what he spouted, that women were suitable for 3 professions: teachers, nurses or nuns. Too bad one of his daughters didn’t become a nursing nun assigned to a foreign mission school, and then Dad could also justify his love of exotic travel. But the ‘70’s are ancient history and thankfully, barriers for women have fallen in most professions.

On November 23, 2006 my husband and I went to Disney Hall to hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic perform a Brahms/Dvorak program. I knew little about the evening; our friends had given us two tickets they couldn’t use. It was Casual Friday, which is a very cool series that the LA Phil created “with classical music neophytes in mind”. Orchestra members are casually dressed and there are programs before and after the concert in which the players discuss the music and their lives as musicians.

After the orchestra was seated, a young attractive woman dressed in Gap black casual, her long, dark hair pulled back with a headband, walked out carrying a baton. “Wait a minute,” I thought, “surely she’s not ….” but, yes, she stepped up to the podium and took command. I had never before seen a woman conduct a symphony orchestra. As Alex Ross noted in the January 7, 2008 edition of The New Yorker, “It isn’t so much that misogyny runs rampant in the music world; it’s that the classical business is temperamentally resistant to novelty, whether in the form of female conductors, American conductors, younger conductors, new music, post 1900 concert dress or concert-hall color schemes that aren’t corporate beige”.
Since the role of conductor is the ultimate authority figure, it was very impressive to see this young woman, Joana Carneiro, confidently take charge. She was the guest conductor and she was magnificent. As part of the Casual Friday series, she, along with two of the soloists, stayed for a post concert Q&A with the audience. She was warm and open and told about growing up in Portugal in a very musical household. She said she knew she wanted to be a conductor from the age of 8. How lucky for her that she is living her dream.

What I found amazing is that she conducted the Dvorak Symphony No.9 “From the New World” without the score in front of her. She is a very young woman; how many times could she have conducted this symphony? She said she prepared, not by listening to other recordings of the symphony, but by studying the score. Her interpretation was wonderful – crisp, triumphant, moving and very passionate. I agree with one of the audience members who voiced the thought that she was ready to have her own orchestra.

Spending an evening watching this dynamic young woman on the podium inspired me to revisit not only my Dvorak “New World” CD, but many other classical CD’s I hadn’t listened to in a long time. Like many multi-taskers, I’d stopped listening to classical music because I believed I didn’t have time to truly listen and savor the music. But, hey, when you think about it, isn’t that what traffic congestion in LA is perfectly suited for?
This is not a slam at Los Angeles, my adopted home. As Alex Ross also noted in The New Yorker, on “Lists of forward-thinking American orchestras – the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony are the de-facto leaders.” So I shout out a “BRAVO” to our city’s musical establishment for bringing Joana Carneiro to the helm. Perhaps Joana’s career will inspire a new crop of young women to enter a field that had seemed closed to them.

Jan Bina, Blogger for Women Over 40 Rock / In the Trenches Productions

Bravo to MORE Magazine and Wilhelmina Model Agency!

Imagine that! A woman who isn’t 18 and a size 1 – in a modeling contest! What fun!

Evidently MORE Magazine and Wilhelmina Models have teamed up to host what will be the eighth annual More/Wilhelmina 40+ Model Search, and only women 40 and older need apply. How often do you see those words?? The contest runs between Aug. 15 and Nov. 15, and to enter, or find out ‘More’ about it you can pick up the latest edition of the magazine or go to MORE or Wilhelmina Models.

I used to model in my youth…actually I was one of the first ‘chubby’ (not to say fat) models with an agency that started up in the late ’60s in New York City…Funny Face. It had the corner on the market for supplying unusual models that didn’t fit into the tall, thin (not to say anorexic) class. I got one of the best compliments of my career on one of those jobs…it was a pantyhose ad for the NY Times Magazine section, and it was shot by a famous fashion photographer (whose name, along with about 30 years of the 65 years of information stored in my brain has left the building). It was me and a ‘real’ model in pantyhose looking over our shoulders at the camera, and during the shoot he called out to me and the whole studio “Hey, too bad we don’t have more of these fashion plate models here…you could show them how to do it!” – So its nice to see that some people, at least, have become aware that you don’t have to be teen queen to be a great model.

Who knows, I may screw my courage to the sticking point and take my size 20 65-year-old body and throw it in the mix! – (The expense-paid trip to the NY finals and the lovely prizes, including a fashion spread in More, ARE tempting!) Or…. not, since I personally find it more and more difficult just to put lipstick on. – But if you’re over 40 and feel like a fun adventure, this might be a great one!
Judith over-40-and-lovin’-it Drake
In The Trenches Productions

Published in: on August 22, 2007 at 1:23 am  Comments (1)  


Could it be? Could it possibly be?? For the second time this week a new series has begun starring, be still my heart, a wonderful actress well over 40 years old!! FX has had the intelligence to allow the multitalented Glenn Close to display those talents with a vengence. The new series DAMAGES aired last night and as far as I am concerned, tv lawyering will never be the same! Instead of the usual male hard-ass head of a legal company bent on winning at all costs, we have a female one! And her intelligence, maliciousness, scheming, and sheer ability to run the world around her with the lifting of her pinky finger is deliciously enjoyable to watch. Why would we ever go back to the ‘male way’ series are usually done?? Is she nasty? Yes. Is she dangerous? Yes. Is she evil and frightening and sure to cause horrendous things as this series wends its way thru the season? Yes. But will we be mesmerized by the sheer depth of the talent involved and smiling through it all despite our feelings of “Oh no, surely she wouldn’t do that”? Yes.
I wish her and the rest of the great cast, which includes a smarmy Ted Danson and an intelligent but naive Rose Byrne, among others, the best as they make their way thru the TV legal system this season, and I can only hope that this and the other ‘opening’ this week…Holly Hunter’s SAVING GRACE on TNT..will get such a wonderfully large audience that it will show the rest of the tv world how smart it would be to come up with more series starring…wait for it………actresses over 40!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Published in: on July 26, 2007 at 5:03 am  Comments (1)  

Thanks to MORE 40 ain’t the end…It’s just the beginning!

Need more proof that life doesn’t come to an abrupt halt after hitting 40, despite what most commercials, ads, tv shows and films try to tell us? Well check out the July/August edition of MORE MAGAZINE and you’ll get ‘more’ interesting stories of women who have made immense changes in their lives mid-life. Among them is a woman who at 48 dropped everything and started a new business that became hugely successful, one who at 40 up and quit her unfullfilling job and struck out as a writer, and one who, at 49, decided she needed to walk and lost 120 pounds, discovered she had leukemia, dealt with it with her new-found strength, and met a new man and moved from Ohio to New Mexico in a heartbeat…saying that because of that first step (literally) she realized “…that I could do whatever I wanted to do, and that I was the one holding myself back all those years.” – Wouldn’t it be great if we could ALL make that realization??

There is also an interview with the lovely Holly Hunter in this edition, talking about her new TNT series, SAVING GRACE, in which she actually gets to play a woman of her own age…49! A big pat on the back to TNT for having the good sense to develop a series whose lead character is a 49 year old Oklahoma City detective who looks and acts her age, is unattached, “..tough-talking and free-loving”. You should definately be tuning this one in!

And heres to all of us over-40 women who won’t allow the mistaken views of most of the media to hold us ‘in our place’ and tell us who and what we should be! And a gold star to MORE for ‘discovering’ us and helping spread the word!

Published in: on July 20, 2007 at 6:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rose Makes It To The Big Time on “Lost”

Yippee! Yahoo! Zippedeedodah! Praise Be to Whomever! Finally! Finally! Finally a storyline on LOST for “Rose”, the middle aged black woman who we’ve only seen in little snippets since the premiere of the crash on LOST. And a love story with a mature couple, Rose and Bernard, to boot! And it is interracial too!! My oh my, I am beside myself with glee! I’ve been a big fan of the show since the premiere but I always thought it was a tad bit odd, to say the least, that the only middle aged people that survived were “Loch” and “Rose”. Are we bad swimmers? Maybe middle-aged people can’t hold their breath as long underwater? I don’t know. Oh wait…. there was a middle-aged science teacher on one episode but they blew him up. Anyway, we know a lot about Loch and nothing about beautiful, soulful, profoundly wise Rose and I’ve been dying to know more. Plus it was really starting to annoy me that I might not survive a plane crash because of my age. Well last night my prayers were answered. Phew! Rose made it to the big time. Of course it took a man to do it. But the discovery of Bernard on the other side of the island helped to incorporate Rose into the main storyline. Yes.. Okay…Let me say it again?. it took a man in a woman’s life, in this case Rose’so life, to get her noticed but at this point who cares how. It got the job done. The actress and actor who play Rose and Bernard are brilliant and seasoned actors with a wealth of knowledge, life experience, emotion, wisdom and expression on their faces in those close-ups. They created a charismatic relationship and wonderful love story. Now there is something for us older folks to relate to and we can fly with a little peace of mind now. Thank you Thank you Thank you and a Big Bravo to the producers and writers of LOST. Keep it up.
Debbie Zipp, In The Trenches Productions

Published in: on March 4, 2006 at 1:41 am  Leave a Comment