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A blend of the unique and the familiar, Caramel, Lebanon's official
Academy Award submission for Best Foreign Film 2007, is a bittersweet
comedy set in Beirut, Lebanon, a city on the road to recovery from a
civil war. The familiar part is that like Barbershop the film takes
place in a beauty salon called Si Belle where a group of women work and
congregate as they deal with problems of thwarted romance, marriage,
aging, and sexuality. The unique part is that these personal stories
occur in a city where religious and political conflict is never too far
from the surface, though there is no mention of Israelis or
Palestinians. The title by the way has nothing to do with very sweet
chewy candy but refers to a sticky concoction used by the hairdressers
to rip out unwanted facial hair. Ouch!
The cast consists of excellent non-professional actors including the director and co-writer Nadine Labaki who plays Layale, a single, 30-year old salon owner who happens to be Christian. Layale is involved in an affair with a happily married man and ignores the romantic overtures of a handsome traffic cop (Adel Karam) who openly flirts with her while giving her parking tickets. Her best friend is co-worker Nisrine (Yasmine Al Masri), a Muslim who, in a state of panic that her future husband will discover that she is not a virgin, goes to a plastic surgeon to attempt to fix the problem.
Other offbeat characters are Aunt Rose, a sweet old seamstress who lives with her slightly demented sister (Aziza Semaan) and Jamale (Gisele Aouad), an aging actress who goes through mechanical auditions for commercials but senses that her best days are behind her. Though the salon environment is quite nurturing and the women are open about expressing their feelings and desires, it is quite evident that they operate under a society governed by traditional Islamic law. Layale learns that you cannot book a hotel room unless you can prove that you are either married or a prostitute, and a couple is harassed by a policeman merely for sitting in their car and talking.
Rima (Joanna Moukarzel) is attracted to a beautiful long-haired woman (Fatmeh Safa) who comes to the shop for shampoos but she is reluctant to openly express her feelings. While Caramel might have veered into soap opera under less capable hands, the director carefully avoids the Hollywood treatment. She has created strong-minded women who have built the kind of community in which they can turn to each other for mutual support. Dedicating her humorous, quietly engaging film "to my Beirut", Ms. Labaki has woven a tapestry of the fading beauty of the ancient city, old traditions being confronted by the new, and the discovery of the bonds between people that make relationships worth celebrating.
Nadine Labaki's genuine, refined and culturally important dramatic
comedy abides by the lives of five Lebanese women. Labaki plays one of
these everyday young ladies working in a beauty salon with two other
women. One is at a loose end in a relationship with a married man, one
is no longer a virgin but is established to be married to a Muslim, one
is attracted to women. A frequent customer and aspiring actress is
troubled by aging, a tailor with a shop next to the salon is an old
woman who had given her life to looking after her deranged elder sister
but has found her first love.
Caramel hums with courage and unapologetic honesty. Labaki's story doesn't touch on any of the political troubles or topical warfare that has painted the western world's immediate image of Lebanon. Instead, she re-paints it with a film in the same spirit as many female bonding movies from France, Italy and America. Her characters and situations involve normal people with average problems that take into poised contemplation Lebanese society and customs and its traditional notions and expectations of women. Without being cynical, belligerent or aggressive, Labaki's film betrays nothing, hides nothing and even by the end has not contrived a thing for the sake of appeasing her strict traditionalist culture or for the sake of her film's inherent message, which evidently has reached the people it is most important that it reaches, made clear by the fact that the film gained first place in the Lebanese box office for more than a month.
This is an uncannily natural and graceful film. Its soothing, peaceful chi is infectious as one watches it. With a uniquely aromatic effect upon the audience, this movie showcases in succulent gold and red cinematography the beauty of all the characters, who are one with the oriental fragrances and exquisite assortment of the most pleasant feelings that guide the lives it permeates.
This film is so incredible that there are barely words to express the admiration and amazement which any sensitive person must experience upon seeing it. There are so many remarkable things about it. First of all, it is the first and only film directed by the beautiful young Lebanese actress Nadine Labaki, and yet she has the sure touch of a master, as if she had been making films like this for fifty years. Everything appears entirely effortless and natural, not like a 'film' at all, but like the spontaneous happenings of life itself. It flows like water, sparkling, darkening, then sparkling again. Apart from Labaki, who plays a lead character, no one in the film had ever acted before. They are all ordinary people, some of them actually picked up in the street! And yet, their performances are perfect, as if they had all won plenty of Oscars before and were all old pros. The film is made without any English-speaking influence at all, and is entirely influenced by French film-making style. There is a great deal of improvisation and a loose, natural structure. But Nadine Labaki is such a genius that she has out-done the French at their own game, and frankly, she could now go to Paris and tell them all how it should really be done. She must have been born a master, like Mozart. This is the ultimate nouvelle vague film, and Godard never even came close to this kind of total spontaneity and sense of truth. There is a touch of the anguished desperation of Agnes Varda, of the devil-may-care lightness tinged with melancholy of Julie Delpy, of the harrowed intensity of Agniezka Holland, and it is all profoundly feminine. Men barely figure in the film, which is about five Lebanese women who work in a beauty salon owned by one of them (Labaki). In this sanctum sanctorum, where men rarely enter, the secrets of the inner lives of the women are shared, not necessarily by discussion, but by osmosis. The 'caramel' of the title is literally the caramel made by boiling sugar, lemon juice and water to make caramel candy. It is used in Beirut to do the waxing on women's legs, but plenty gets eaten before they get to work. Waxing with caramel is a kind of purely female bonding ritual in Lebanese families, Labaki explains in a fascinating and lengthy interview which is an extra to the DVD, and which everybody ought to watch. One hopes that Labaki will get lots of work in Paris now, where they should all bow down and kiss the nether hems of her garments, and be quick about it, as she has surpassed them all with her first effort. However, as Labaki dedicates her film at the end 'a mon Beyrouth' ('to my Beirut'), she may be too attached to the place to leave. She admits to having lived with her parents as a young adult until her marriage and to being integrated into her community in a way difficult for Westerners to comprehend. The women in the salon are a mixture of Christian and Muslim, wholly indifferent to any barriers of religion, and cosmopolitan in their manners as only the women of Lebanon can be in the 'Arab world'. They are as far from the black crows of oppressed Saudi Arabia as day is from night. But that does not mean that they are liberated inside. As Labaki says, all Beirut women feel an undefined sense of guilt every day, they don't know for what, and none of them is really sure of who she is or who she should be. There are so many spectacular performances in this amazing film that it would be pointless to name them, as they are all so brilliant, and no one is even vaguely inferior to anyone else. It is the most perfectly matched ensemble I have ever seen. A great deal of the credit for this spectacular achievement is due to the French producer Anne-Dominique Toussaint, who was executive producer of the amazing 'Mina Tannenbaum' in 1994 and co-producer of Deneuve's 'Place Vendome' in 1998, to name two which are well known around the world. If it were not for Toussaint, Labaki would not have been given her chance. The film has excellent music by Khaled Mouzzanar, whom Labaki married in 2007, perhaps because she liked the sound of his music so much that she decided they may as well make some together. This film is extremely daring in terms of an Arab country, or even a Maronite one, as it deals with themes which include adultery and lesbianism and the double lives lived by Lebanese women who are liberated when alone but conventional when with their families, so that they are not sure which is really 'them'. They stand with one foot in the Stone Age and one foot in the future, which can be leg-splitting. Gisele Aouad, Sihame Haddad, Dimitri Staneofski, and Aziza Semaan all bring their own special pathos to the problems of getting old. The sad story of 'Tante Rose', played by Sihame Haddad, is heart-breaking, and is portrayed with such infinite delicacy that the actress could be described as a spiritual lace-maker. Aziza Semaan, as her much older sister Lili, who has dementia, is both hilarious and tragic at the same time, and one of the wildest and most breathtaking performances filmed in years. She is the one of whom Labaki says: 'I turned round in the street and saw her and I asked her if she would be willing to be in a film.' It took a year to piece together the cast off the street like this. Not since Carl Dreyer cast his silent film 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' with strangers whose faces he liked, has anything like that been pulled off so well. Everything about this film is sheer genius.
In Beirut, six women and six stories meet around a women's beauty
parlour: Layale, in love with a married man who will never leave his
wife for her, Nisrine, who is going to get married and doesn't know how
to tell his boyfriend she is no longer virgin, Rima, who doesn't accept
to be attracted by women, Jamale, obsessed by age and physical
appearance and Rose, who has sacrificed the best years of her life to
look after her sister. Inside the hot, colourful and magnetic
atmosphere of the old-fashioned beauty parlour, between brush strokes
and caramel wax we hear them speaking about sex, love, maternity, with
the freedom and intimacy that only women can show.
The result is a delicate fresco on women, capable of getting straightforwardly to the heart of women, but not only. A very delicate, never vulgar watercolour, depicting women involved in what seem to be out of time female problems and concerns. A fresco which also deals with hot topical issues, such as war, the living together between Catholics and Muslims, the clash of different cultures, but never losing its amusing and amused tone. In the end, we are both stunned and comforted by the strength that only women can show when they join together and problems are to be faced.
The director and actress Nadine Labaki manages to render the female daily melancholy, without ever falling into the banal or the cliché, but through a powerful and intense synaesthetic strategy: through eyes, smells, sounds, in such a poignant way, as to make us able to touch, to smell, to taste what is being performed, as if we were absorbed in that same intense atmosphere. A word must be spent for the soundtrack, well and wisely dosed, and never boring. A feel-good and intelligent movie I would suggest to all women, and, why not, also to men.
When Diane and I viewed this film several days ago, neither one of us knew anything about the content so the film was a total Tabla Rasa for us; we were both captivated by this beautiful and sensitive look at human life as lived by these women in Beirut. My friend would dismiss this film, if he would ever attend it, as being too costly for the bang of the movie. He, like probably many who would venture into the darkness to sit through a foreign film, would hope to see a little blood, a car crash or two and of course, many guns so he would be disappointed at the subtlety and quiet that constituted this wonderful small film. He would be disappointed that Caramel had no significant male actors bar one; no Hollywood theatrics and no sex. Rather this lovely film was an intense examination of the interconnecting lives of the women who visited the parlour. This is a soft film; a film that quietly examines the small dramas that are the substance of our lives so this film is us in so many important ways. I am drawn to these films about small human dramas; they provide the inward examination of our lives that is the true substance of what we are and the drama that is our existence.
Caramel is one of the rare contemporary films that shows restraint in
its use of common language and in-your-face eroticism. I can't remember
the last time I watched a movie that dealt with adult topics in such
In contrast to most other films of this kind, we the audience are treated as intelligent, thinking people. We are asked to examine women's issues of sex, relationships, and aging without being subjected to the graphic scenes and gratuitous language that are prevalent in today's film-making. There isn't even an instance of "potty" humor, although one particularly touching scene takes place in a bathroom. Nevertheless, humor abounds in the form of terrific writing and amazingly good acting by these Arabic actresses.
Naturally, movies of this type do not have mass appeal in US culture. But for cinema buffs who appreciate the creative nature of screen writing, Caramel should not be missed. Guys, you can earn points by taking your date to this one, and there is a bevy of beauties for us to enjoy. And moms, don't miss the chance to take your adolescent daughters to Caramel... It will spark conversations about love, relationships, adultery, lesbianism, menopause, and more... All without being offensive.
Greetings again from the darkness. Insightful film dominated by
Writer-Director-Lead Actress Nadine Labaki. Billed as a Romantic
Comedy, this is much more a commentary on people ... especially women
and how everyone's thought and actions revolve around finding the right
companion. During that search, there can be much loneliness and
frustration, but the discovery makes it all worthwhile.
The doe-eyed Ms. Labaki gives a fine performance and supposedly most of the supporting roles were filled by "real" people, not actors. Probably why the movie has such an earthy, straight-from-the-heart feel to it. There is much creativity in the editing and scene cuts. Much of the humor of the film is derived from tying one scene to another seemingly unrelated one.
Not in the class of the Almodovar films, it still is very poignant and classy in it's commentary on women and relationships. Also, it is refreshing to see a film on Beirut that is character driven and not politically or war based.
Absolutely beautiful. Being originally from Beirut I could name someone I know to each of the characters in the movie,they were realistic and wonderfully developed. Nadine is incredibly beautiful, as are all of the women in the film. And just like homemade caramel, this movie is a mixture of sweet and sour. I could tell you I was crying just as much as I was laughing throughout the film. Unfortunately I have not been back to Beirut since the war started two years ago, my heart aches especially for my city during these times of turmoil, and to see a film that does not really touch on the subject is a bit of breath of fresh air. Thank you Nadine, shukuran Habibti.
You know those films that you walk out of and just feel GREAT about
life? Caramel definitely has to be one of the most well-done films that
I've ever seen come out of the Middle East.
I saw this film at the TIFF on the last day of the festival. This follows the story of five women who are all connected through life in a beauty shop. Yet, unlike Latifah's Beauty Shop, this film really focuses on sisterhood, pressing social issues, and love. Issues of homosexuality, adultery, religious customs, and aging are explored in an unbiased way.
Labaki is very clear with her desire to maintain an objective point of view on life and leave it to the viewer to come to their own conclusions about what to believe.
Basically, I would recommend this film to anyone. It's heartwarming, it's tear-jerking, it's laugh-inspiring. I loved it, and I think anyone would, regardless of what background, and what social standing. Any woman would be able to see themselves in at LEAST one of the women in this film. It's a great snapshot into the lives of these women. I also went with three men to to this film, and every single one of them (whose tastes range from The Godfather to American History X) loved this film as well. Go see it! I really hope that this film gets nominated for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award. Labaki deserves it.
Caramel is a Lebanese movie that follows the lives of five Lebanese
women who work in a beauty salon with different problems. This is a
Nadine Labaki film, her big screen debut and she shines!
The movie follows there lives with a great dialogue and script that never goes out of hand.The score, which is created by Nadine's fiancé, is amazing. The performances are stunning! This is the first time Yasmine Al Masri, Joanna Moukarzel, Gisele Aouad, and Siham Hadad act! Surprisingly, they steal the show! Nadine Labaki (who has appeared in other picture like Bosta) also shines with her powerful performance!
This movie is a must see! It includes a lot of jokes (or as we call them secret Lebanese jokes) which foreigners might not get. But still, this movie shows the real pressure Lebanese women face, and it's a pleasure to know that it will be released worldwide so that the whole world can see a different side of Lebanon; The real Lebanese life!
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