Lebanon director Labaki’s first appearance film Caramel is a sticky-sweet serving of women who work in and wander around a quaintly colorful beauty salon, set in the capital of the Lebanon Republic. The dazzling debut director (who plays the role of Layale, the salon owner herself) shows an appetizing mishmash of women who tread along and seek for themselves in their subtle ways, a life of happiness, love and security. Five women who slickly run their glossy salon, eagerly preoccupied with their lurking lovers...
Lebanon director Labaki’s first appearance film Caramel is a sticky-sweet serving of women who work in and wander around a quaintly colorful beauty salon, set in the capital of the Lebanon Republic. The dazzling debut director (who plays the role of Layale, the salon owner herself) shows an appetizing mishmash of women who tread along and seek for themselves in their subtle ways, a life of happiness, love and security. Five women who slickly run their glossy salon, eagerly preoccupy with their lurking lovers, daintily deal with their bordering anxieties and sweetly exhale the radiance of womanhood, all along.
Layale (Nadine Labaki) is the salon’s alluring owner who is absorbed in an exasperating affair with a married man, and stands somewhat insensate to the enticing stares of the near-by street’s syrupy policeman. Surrounding her, are her convivial co-workers with their own share of trifled troubles and crusted longings. Nisrine, (Yasmine Al Masri) a curly haired Muslim damsel is nervous to think that her future husband will discover that she is no longer an untainted virgin; Rima, (Joanna Moukarzel) a tomboy hair dresser develops a secret soft corner for an exquisite woman, who drops by time and again to have an appeasing hair wash; Jamale, (Gisele Aouad) a puppet-faced actress, and patron of the salon stretches limits to appear young and prolong her shelf-life as performer. And across the street there’s Rose, (Sihame Haddad) a lovely aged woman who finds her love in a charming old man after plenty plain years with Lily, (Asiza Semaan) her zany old sister who dallies about amassing scraps of litter paper, imagining them as notes from her long lost lover.
Caramel is for the sugary gumminess that backdrops the loves and lives of all these women - The sweetness of the brown word, in recipe with the slight stinging pain it stands for in the centering salon (by its utility as substance for waxing). Labaki does wonders in showing us its meaning in many pleasurably beautiful scenes through the film – like the instant in which the love-struck policeman watches on from a painful distance, while Layale is engrossed on call with his invisible competitor, as he gratifies himself with his own endearing replies to her unknown conversation. Or at another tender moment, in which a hallowed child plays with Layale through the fish tank, until she is discovered as the offspring of her neglecting lover’s wife.
Labaki at other times, modishly crafts merely mouth-watering moments in which the creamy rich caramel, so correctly concocted can be savored without vigilance for any excess of sugar of sear - as in Nisrine’s melodious wedding scene that chimes with graceful poetry, delightful dances and warm togetherness. Or in the elegant scene in which an attracted Rima shampoos her strikingly beautiful client’s cascade of dark tresses, a moment full of composed smiles and silent comforts. Equally eye-catching are the bronze-ish Beirut surrounding sets - those that imitate the enriched textures and honeyed hues of Caramel as it is, playing sultry reminders to the bitter-sweet realities that encompass life.
The film over all displays lovely potential coming from a first-time filmmaker, who dishes out a mass of mellifluous performances, genuine characters and soulful beauty. A supplement of this generous serving to a lethargic summer afternoon, or a routine familial gathering, or a stilly love date. Caramel is that sweet, refreshing indulgence.