If Queen Latifah’s Beauty Shop had been made in Lebanon and featured more heart and less sassy braying, it would have looked a lot like Caramel, writer-director Nadine Labaki’s film about four women who work at and/or frequent a Beirut beauty parlor. The general formula that Labaki employs is rather rote, as each character is saddled with a particular narrative revolving around a personal dilemma, but there’s a trenchant cultural critique lurking beneath its occasionally cloying melodrama. Labaki’s protagonists are desperate for happiness but, in most cases, are stymied in their efforts to attain satisfaction by inequitable social forces out of their control. The shame that stylist Layale (Labaki) feels for being involved with a married man stems, at least in part, from the notion that her family would be horrified by her sex-out-of-wedlock behavior, a frowned-upon pastime in the Muslim country (even for Christians such as these) that’s also an issue for co-worker Nisrine (Yasmine Al Masri), who fears that her husband will discover she’s not a virgin on their wedding night. Their problems, as well as those of Jamale (Gisèle Aouad) and Rima (Joanna Moukarzel)—the former an actress struggling to come to terms with her advancing age, and the latter a closeted lesbian with a blossoming crush on a client—all stem from a set of unequal expectations/responsibilities to which females are diligently expected to adhere. And this is also certainly the case for Rose (Sihame Haddad), an elderly seamstress whose chance for love is frustrated by her obligation to care for crazy sister Lili (Aziza Semaan). Caramel is decidedly soap opera-y in tone, and the director’s fondness for juxtaposing two thematically analogous scenes eventually becomes more wearisome than winsome. Nonetheless, Labaki’s consideration of her characters is marked by such respect and empathy that it does much to eclipse the syrupiness that sometimes bubbles to the surface, lending the film a touching humanism that’s aided by her refusal—except in one case—to provide uncomplicated fairy-tale endings for her story’s tough, lonely, independent women.
- Roadside Attractions
- 96 min
- Nadine Labaki
- Nadine Labaki, Jihad Hojeily, Rodney Al Haddad
- Nadine Labaki, Yasmine Al Masri, Joanna Moukarzel, Gisèle Aouad, Adel Karam, Siham Haddad, Aziza Semaan
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