Lebanese Film ‘Caramel’ Coats Women’s Relationships With Warmth, Truth

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.5/5CHICAGO – In the social palette that makes up relationships for adult women, the main brushstrokes involve trust, unity and a passion for friendships. Of course, it doesn’t hurt if they can meet in their favorite beauty parlor. The film “Caramel” follows the lives of five women in Beirut, Lebanon as they experience aging, commitment, lifestyle choices and bikini waxing.

Photo credit: IMDb

The title “Caramel” refers to the salon technique for removing hair using the sticky confectionary. In a sort of Lebanese “Steel Magnolias” (but without the schmaltz), writer and director Nadine Labaki explores the generational gamut regarding women’s concerns in the Middle Eastern city.

Labaki herself portrays Layale: a salon caramel expert and the “other woman” in a relationship that’s sapping her resolve. Rima (Joanna Moukarzel) – the manager of the salon – is exploring her own alternate lifestyle choices.

Hair stylist Nisrine (Yamsime Elmasri) is getting married and has something to take care of before the wedding night.

The main customers who complete the circle are Jamale (Giséle Auoad) – a “north of age 40” actress and model whose quest for lost youth is close to desperate – and Rose (Sihame Haddad): an elderly tailor caring for a senile sister with a possible (though improbable) suitor.

Before any dismissive “chick flick” thoughts occur, Labaki has realized each character richly through their joys and sorrows. Labaki especially gives Layale such strong hope for connecting with her married man that during a scene where she prepares a filthy hotel room (washing away sins?) for an anniversary fling I was hoping with her.

Photo credit: IMDb

Each character gets a moment for consideration against a society that’s still evolving in their attitudes toward women.

Even the demented old sister (Lili) becomes a warning siren against the patriarchal authority as her disconnect with reality flings moments of truth into the face of “tradition”.

Nisrine’s wedding night “procedure” – complete with a back-alley flavor – absurdly and sadly displays the rigid reality of cultural expectations.

Despite a soft pacing and deliberate narrative, Labaki uses the women’s lives as a backdrop in celebration of the melting pot of Beirut, which is a healing city celebrated for its diversity, range of religion and culture. Her use of mirror shots with the actresses offers a reflection of both the woman and the culture with each circumstance casting back against the current tide.

Through the women’s stories, Labaki is expressing the history of the city in a social experiment filtered through a century of colonialism, conflict and triumph. I wonder if that caramel treatment would remove my stubborn back hair.

“Caramel” opened in limited U.S. theaters (including Chicago) on Feb. 1, 2008.

Click here for our full “Caramel” image gallery!

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Patrick McDonald

Staff Writer

© 2008 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

Anonymous's picture

pat mcdonald

This guy is one smart writer. Wish he’d quit smoking though.

HollywoodChicago.com's picture

Amen to Jan. 1, 2008 in Chicago

Amen to Jan. 1, 2008 in Chicago (no smoking in bars).

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