Caramel (Sukkar banat)

The majority of this touching film takes place in a Beirut beauty salon which has become a place of love, loss, and laughter for a group of women. Despite the fact that this film takes place in Lebanon, the viewer does not need to be Lebanese or have knowledge of Lebanese culture in order to understand the sisterly friendship and warmth these women share; their joys and dilemmas are universal. Some of the stories include an unmarried woman having an affair with a married man, a divorced actress who suffers through her need to keep up with the younger women who surround her, a woman who fears her soon-to-be husband will find out that she is not a virgin, and a woman who develops feelings for one of her female clients. The film is sexy, funny, and revealing about a culture that is both different and similar to our own. The film’s title is both a literal one–caramel is used as a substitute for wax in the salon–as well as a metaphorical one. Though some people are not fans of subtitles, this film more than worth seeing.

Bread and Tulips (Pane e Tulipani)

Doesn’t everybody want to move to Venice? Apparently, even Italians share this dream with the rest of the world. Bread and Tulips is the uplifting story of a woman looking to shake up her mundane life as a housewife. On vacation with her husband, two sons, and sister, Rosalba takes a little too long in the restroom and is left behind by her family, who think she is on the bus with them. Frantic at first, she calls her husband and arranges to be picked up. Though, his angry reaction and a strangers unintended advice lead her to decide to hitchhike her way to a city she has always dreamed of visiting: Venice. This film quickly takes a turn as Rosalba finds housing with a waiter with a confusing past, poetic way of speaking, and mysterious habits. While staying with him, she meets his hyperactive and vodka-loving masseuse neighbor, Grazia. Then, in a moment of “Why not?” she decides to work for a garlic loving, tea drinking, anarchist florist. The plot climaxes when her husband, furious at her abandonment, hires a private eye to find her and bring her home. Through these quirky characters and hilarious events, a touching story emerges about a woman living her life as she had always dreamed.

Love Me If You Dare (Jeux d’enfants)

Childhood games carried on through adulthood and obsessive, yet repressed, love. The result? A love story that you (finally) haven’t heard or seen before. The story begins with two children, Julien and Sophie, who find mutual joy in playing the game “dare.” The object of the game is a tin carousel which is passed from one to the other as they pass along dares that each feels compelled to fulfill. The love between these two is evident, but subtle until it is made explicit towards the end of the film. The conflict arises when, naturally, the life path of these inseparable childhood friends begins to diverge. Julien decides to take the route of education and adulthood, though deep down he desires nothing more than to forever stay inextricably linked to the mischief and childlike perception of the world that come with love and friendship with Sophie. The cinematography in this film is beautiful because colors play a role in the evolution of the plot. When Julien and Sophie are children, the colors of the film are varied and bright, and as the plot progresses, these colors dull and dim, but remain beautiful nonetheless. Another constant throughout the film, which essentially becomes the films theme song, is Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose. This film is a love story unlike any I have ever come across, and was worth every second.

Mainline (Khoon bazi)

One characteristic of Iranian films that people either love, or hate, is the slow pace and lack of any sort of special effects. Iranian filmmakers rely heavily on the simple beauty of plot, dialogue, and great acting. Mainline, the story of one girls struggle with addiction, is a perfect example of this sort of filmmaking. This film takes place during two days in which Sara, torn by both her desire to recover from drug use and her compulsion to continue using, is being taken to the north of Iran by her mother, Bita, who is at a complete loss as to how to handle her daughters problems. Though drug addiction seems like an old story, how it is dealt with in Iranian culture has its own distinct twist. Iranian culture is one in which things are kept very hush hush, and one family’s image in the eyes of another is of upmost importance. These things affect both how Sara feels about her drug addiction, and how her mother struggles to cope with it in a realistic manner. Iran, unlike America, is not full of rehabilitation centers, and the government has only in recent years decided to not just jail drug abusers, but treat them as individuals who need help. There are few scenes in this film that will lose some of their emotive power to those who are not Iranian, but the overall story is one that almost anybody–mother or daughter, addict or not–can sympathize with.