CARAMEL

(Sukkar Banat)

Directed by  Nadine Labaki. 2007.


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk
 
 


 
 

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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 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 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. 

GRADE: A-
 

Howard Schumann
 
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