“Caramel” Tastes Sweet
For the first time in my life, I enjoyed and delighted in digesting Caramel for one and one-half hours and didn't gain an ounce. The voluptuous Nadine Labaki wrote, directed and stars in this Lebanese film entered as Best Foreign Language Film for the upcoming Academy Awards. Caramel possesses sincerity, sweetness and simplicity which is a rare treat for the filmgoer.
The title, Caramel, refers to the method used in the Middle East by which hair is removed using the sticky substance. It's applied over the skin and, rather painfully, rips off the hair. We know caramel as the substance that tastes so good as it melts in our mouth and gives dentists so much added work. Certain things can be both good and bad for you!
Employing a cast of totally unknown "actors", Ms. Labaki succeeds in introducing us to several different types of ladies: the shy Muslim, about to be married but despairs because she is no longer a virgin; the probable lesbian who cannot come out of the closet in this repressed society; the woman holding on to her youth so tenaciously as she comes to the salon for regular treatments; the seamstress living with her aging, mentally deficient sister adjacent to the salon, who shuns any makeovers until a man enters her lonely life. And, of course, Layale, played by Ms. Labaki, who is having a steamy affair with a married man.
Also appearing is a stranger who comes to the shop, unannounced, and in need of treatments. Played beautifully by Fatme Safa, this character represents the only real iconoclast, willing to be liberated from the constraints women are held to in Beirut. Her actions at the end of the film represent the complete breakaway from the fetters of her earlier teachings and training. Marvelously stated – beautifully portrayed!
We get to know each of these people and we do care about them very much. Ms. Labaki, in her role as director, captures the essence of each of the ladies, creating a warm, resonant, sympathetic response to each of their problems. The accompanying musical sound track adds pathos and feeling to the action and dialogue. French and Arabic are the two languages used and the subtitles are quite visible.
This film is a definite contender for an Oscar. And, for her first effort at directing, Ms. Labaki deserves kudos for her achievement. Very highly recommended.
Opens February 1 in Los Angeles and New York. For more information, visit www.caramelmovie.com