In Caramel, Nadine Labaki’s debut feature, the usually war torn Lebanon is unrecognizable, the remnants of war, usually depicted by bullet-ridden building walls, missing. Instead, Lebanese women and their pursuits of happiness are given the limelight in this romantic comedy.
Set in Beirut, the dual influence of French/Lebanese is prominent. The chic beauty salon in which much of the action takes place could be in any French or Mediterranean story. Instead the salon is a microcosm of the city: women confide in each other over love, sex and religion, in between haircuts and waxing.
Layla (Nadine Labaki) is in an adulterous affair but soon becomes obsessed with the wife the cheating husband will not leave. Nisrine (Yasmine Al Masri) is rushed into marriage but is not the virgin she promises to be for her wedding night.
Shy Rima (Joanna Moukarzel) is a closet lesbian and falls for a beautiful customer, while Jamal (Gisèle Aouad) is frightened about aging and pursues a career in acting.
Next door in the tailor shop, elderly Rose (Silhame Haddad) has a choice of pursuing her last chance at love or continuing to look after her older senile, and often hilarious, sister.
With its Peeping Tom use of the camera we watch, like nosey neighbours, as five acutely devised stories concerning different generations of women are woven together against their societies’ constraints.
The difficulties depicted by the women here – simply sitting in a car with a man or cutting their hair short – could be extended to the inhabitants of many Arabic countries, and those in Caramel are probably living in the most liberal female society in the Middle East.
Often hilarious, with every cast member putting in a strong performance, Caramel is relevant, quirky and uncomplicated. The film’s positive mood is ultimately testament to the friendship of women.
Caramel is a film that often resembles its name: with its rich brown and gold palette, it is a joy to the eye while, like the caramel used for waxing in the salons, it also shows the pain that can surround womens pursuits of beauty and happiness.
Review by Sean Salhab
Caramel is on general release