Caramel, the debut feature film from director, writer and actress Nadine Labaki, took me completely by surprise. The film focuses around four co-workers and friends who reside in a beauty salon. As the film progresses we are welcomed into their personal lives and their personal problems. We also come into contact with a seamstress called Rose, who works next door, and her sister Lili who is completely dependent upon her. The film is a celebration of and an exploration into the female spirit. The film deals with an abundance of issues from adultery, promiscuity, sexuality and the sadness of ageing. The film oozes charm from start to finish and there is something incredibly endearing about the stories we are being told. Labaki’s role as writer, director and performer really gives this film great value; a work of great substance and quality. The complexities and struggles of women are highlighted intelligently and realistically. Each woman we follow during Caramel has a separate personality and understanding of the world. We meet each woman at very different times in their lives. Layale is at a crossroads; fully aware that she is stuck in a poisonous and non-progressive situation. Layale, played by Labaki, is having an affair with a married man whom she waits by the phone for and hastily runs to, when beckoned. Nisrine is preparing to marry her love but dealing with the guilt of having “sinned” before marriage. Rima is battling with her repressed sexuality which she faces when one customer returns again and again to see her. Jamale is battling with growing older – a problem that appears initially comical but which has sadder roots that gradually become apparent.
The film carries an essence that reminded me of Almodóvar’s Volver and All About My Mother. Yet, where the eccentric Spanish director makes films rich in political and social commentary, Caramel avoids any discussion about the stand point of contemporary Lebanon. Labaki has simply chosen to tell a story about regular people, ordinary women, battling through daily life. The beauty of Caramel lies in Labaki’s ability to balance the comedy and the tragedy. Our University film screening club chortled and howled with laughter throughout the film but also seemed incredibly moved by it. The sadness and lack of resolution for the majority of the characters makes the final moments of the film bitter-sweet. Caramel feels fresh and fun but there is a deeper emotional level to this film that you will not necessarily see coming.
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