Concentration: Film and Television Studies

Title of Project: Counter Cinema in “Caramel” by Nadine Labaki (2007, Lebanon)

Inspiration Behind the Project:

More often than not, ordinary people relate the collocation ‘Middle East’ with three major adjectives: violent, barbaric and inhumane. This concept is attributing to the media in all its forms. However, those people could not further from reality. Perception is reality or so it seems. Some may label it misconception. Hence it does not create any doubt in anyone’s mind that what a person sees on TV is absolute. After all, the adage says, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This sentiment was vividly expressed by much earlier writers. For example the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev wrote in Fathers and Sons in 1862, “A picture shows me at a glance what it takes dozens of pages of a book to expound.” This is a testimony to the fact that an image deserves to be studied seriously and analyzed carefully.

The years 2007 and 2013 may not mean much to many, but they are of great importance to me, a woman from the Middle East. Such importance stems from two movies. Both are women and from the Middle East, Lebanon and Egypt, respectively. The first is the year is “Caramel” was filmed; it was directed by a woman, Nadine Lebaki from Lebanon. The second is the year “The Square” was filmed; it was directed by a woman, Jehane Noujaim from Egypt. They are artistic creative directors whose camera lenses spanned over those seven years to capture moments in Arabic-speaking women’s lives. They not only exposed certain elements of society that are not visible to the naked eyes but also peeled the layers of the female in a male-dominant culture.

The photo The New York Times published with the review of “Caramel” on February 1, 2008 was a woman holding the blinds of a window somewhat ajar looking out in order to see. Meanwhile the photo The New York Times published with the review of “The Square” on October 24, 2013 is an image of a woman with one eye covered. They represent the inner turmoil and the outer turmoil.

Both women filmmakers invite their local and international audiences to look deeper into the core of being a woman Arab or an Arab woman. They artfully attempt to either to keep the door ajar or the window veiled. There is always a layer that has to be removed by the audience members individually. There lies a blurred vision that beckons attention and clarity.

In 2005, The American University of Cairo Press published Rebecca Hillauer’s Encyclopedia of Arab Women Filmmakers whose cover shows four fully veiled women in black sitting and one unveiled woman in white in the desert. The powerful image defines the word ‘counter’, and reflects nothing but opposition. This woman in white defies in position and color the norm — the male version of women’s roles in society should and should not be. This particular image, through the eyes of women filmmakers, embodies the concept of counter-cinema.

According to counter cinema is defined as counter-cinema (oppositional cinema).

Counter-cinema refers to the rough grouping of films, film makers, and institutions which attempt to set themselves against the formalist and ideological domination of Hollywood cinema. The name “counter-cinema” suggests a discursive practice that actively opposes mainstream cinema and thus offers an alternative to the discourses that mainstream cinema helps construct. One could include avant-garde, art, and Third World cinema in this group, all of which attempt to create some level of distantiation in the viewer by questioning, subverting and/or openly challenging the basic codes and conventions of classical Hollywood cinema. These would include cohesive and linear narrative structure…that perpetuates “cinematic realism,” cultural stereotypes, etc. Counter-cinema is often self-reflexive, bringing attention to itself as a film and to the institution of cinema. Examples of such films include anti-bourgeois films such as Godard’s Weekend (1968), Potter’s feminist Thriller (1979), and Riggs’ Black/gay Tongues Untied (1990). While these films clearly distinguish themselves as “opositional” in both form and content, the degree of distanciative effects varies greatly across films placed in these categories by film critics, and the battle over definitions gets to the heart of debates concerning the efficacy of using the institutional discourse of cinema as a means of effecting political change.