Koch On Film


By Ed Koch.

“Caramel” (+) The acting in this Lebanese film is excellent but the plot lacks heft. In the end, it is a pleasant but uneventful picture.

The movie opens in a woman’s beauty salon, and the story focuses on the love lives of several women. The main character is the owner of the shop, Layale (Nadine Labaki), who is having an affair with a married man. Nisrine (Yasmine Al Masri), who is engaged to a Muslim man, worries what will happen if he discovers that she is not a virgin. Jamale (Gisele Aouad) is an aging actress trying to compete with younger women for television commercial roles, and seamstress, Aunt Rose (Siham Haddad), cares for her sister, Lili (Aziza Semaan), who suffers from dementia. Rose gives up the possibility of marriage to a distinguished gentlemen probably because of her obligation to her sister.

The women, who spend a lot of time gossiping, are there for one another when needed. Their sisterhood reminded me of the relationships among the women in “Sex and the City” but without the visible sex so distinctive in that HBO television series.

I saw “Caramel” at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas located at 62nd and Broadway, and the audience was overwhelmingly Lebanese. Two couples sitting in front of me had come in from the suburbs to see the movie. They were delighted with the film, being transported back to a lovely looking Beirut where they had undoubtedly spent their childhood. When they asked me what I thought of the movie I said, “Sweet, but no heft.” They shouldn’t feel bad about that, however, because there are very few movies currently playing with any real heft. (In Arabic and French, with English subtitles.)

“The Witness” (+) A good film that is worth seeing, but it certainly did not fulfill my expectations after reading Stephen Holden’s review in The New York Times. Holden wrote that the films of the director André Téchiné are “casually sensual.” He went on, “The fluid sexuality of at least one male character in most Téchiné films is almost a given; the director’s strong, free-spirited women are in charge of their own sexuality to a degree rarely found in American movies, unless those woman are designated as vixens. But if the world according to Téchiné is a liberated wonderland with few boundaries, living there comfortably requires that you wear sophisticated psychological armor.”

The story takes place in 1984 and centers on the intertwined lives of a half-dozen people, some of whom are heterosexual, others bisexual and homosexual. Adrien (Michel Blanc), a homosexual doctor in his 50s, is infatuated with Manu (Johan Libereau), a gay man in his 20’s. Manu becomes involved with Mehdi (Sami Bouajila), a French Moroccan police detective on the morals squad. Mehdi is married to a writer, Sarah (Emmanuelle Beart), who also has lovers outside her marriage. Manu lives with his sister, Julie (Julie Depardieu), who appears to have a future as an opera singer.

Like a Robert Altman film, the characters interact and react to one another, but in this case everyone knows one another. The scenes of southern France and the coast are lovely, and the couplings are done with restraint and are never coarse. The film, however, is devoid of satisfaction, and I was never involved in the lives of any of the characters. Also, the world changed with the onset of AIDS in the early ’80s. The scene of Manu being stricken with Kaposi’s sarcoma, evidenced by the sores on his face and body, would have shocked an audience years ago seeing it for the first time. Today, audiences are totally familiar with the disease.

PT said: “If this movie had been made at the time we first became aware of the AIDS virus and its horrendous effect on the gay and other populations, it would have provided a powerful message. But we know so much now and have come so far in the recognition and treatment of the disease, that the story told lacks dramatic impact. When the central character falls ill with AIDS it impacts all those in his life — and that is well done, as is the gay scene in Paris. It’s an interesting film but not a great film.”