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Thursday, May 9

Caramel and Nadine Labaki

Caramel is a sensuous combination that makes you think of decadent sweets or passionate deserts. It has a shiny texture and a yellowish-brown colour that mesmerises the eye and bewilders the smell.
Written and directed by, and starring, Nadine Labaki, the film Caramel (whose name refers to the women's way of waxing, at the beauty parlour) is a portrayal of five women's trials and tribulations of adulthood in Beirut, Lebanon. The owner of the salon, Layale, is a Christian young woman having an affair with a married man, Nisrine, a Muslim bride, fears the reaction of her future husband towards her loss of virginity, Jamale is an actress desperately faking her signs of ageing, Rima is attracted to other women and Rose gives up her final chance to happiness to take care of her almost senile sister, Lili.

If Pedro Almodovar were to take Steel Magnolias and rework it into something a bit less maudlin, and relocate the action to a Beirut beauty shop instead of the American South, the outcome might resemble Lebanese director and star Nadine Labaki's debut feature.

Caramel's Si Belle hasn't got the shabby-chic look of Truvi's beauty parlour in Steel Magnolias and neither are Labaki's female characters as driven and twisted as Almodovar's stubborn women, but it is still a place where the ladies meet to gossip, freshen up and socialise. The movie praises the power of female friendship and comfort of intimate, honest relationships, as opposed to a judgemental, traditional society. There is a dual world where Labaki's women live; one is the confined, yet free, life of the salon and the other is the outside, brutal reality. The film implies that a metamorphosis is possible for these strong women who turn out to be inventive and resourceful when it comes to making a compromise between their personal dreams and real life.   
The sweet, yet painful mixture women use to sooth their skin after getting rid of the unwanted body hair is a metaphor for the both happy and challenging times in their lives. There is promise in every interaction these five women have with the every day religious and social pressures and despite the difficult decisions they have to make, they struggle to find their own path and chance to happiness. Caramel is a warm comedy that depicts the fragile balance the women try to keep between following their hearts and abiding the religious and social rules. The performance of the five actresses is the main attraction of the movie, since some of them are first time performers who manage to complete the structure of the film in a touching manner.

Caramel is full of optimism and charisma, the story of the friendship of five women whose lives are not easy to live but theirs to fight for. These women share a secret solidarity that gives them the strength and the humour to overcome the difficult times in their lives. Maybe a caramel waxing and a hairdo are not always the best remedy to disappointment and sadness but friendship goes beyond religion and social discrepancies in this mix of Christian and Muslim worlds.