A comedy about women who work in a beauty parlor has the potential to be syrupy -- especially if the title is Caramel. But the titular hair removal substance used by Lebanese beauty technicians actually causes a burst of pain. Nadine Labaki's Caramel provides an intimate look at women's lives in modern day Lebanon: Muslim and Christian, rich and poor, young and old. As expected, these women laugh and cry and talk about love; but while formulaic in structure, the film is actually quite lovely.
In addition to directing and co-writing the screenplay of her first film, the talented Labaki also stars in Caramel
, playing the central role of Layale, a young woman who still lives with her parents while having an affair with a married man. Her co-workers include Nisrine (Yasmine Al Masri), a Muslim woman who fears telling her fiancé that she's no longer a virgin. The elderly seamstress from next door falls in love for the first time. Tomboyish hair dresser Rima (Joanna Moukarzel) is smitten with a mysterious woman who enters the salon; their relationship, however, is constrained to erotically charged hair washing sessions.
Shot in Beirut during a rare period free of war, Labaski tells a story seemingly devoid of politics. These loving portraits, however, reminds audiences that women's lives around the world are not one and the same. There are doctors to solve Nisrine's so-called problem. The unmarried Layale is mistaken for a prostitute when she tries to make a hotel reservation. Most moving of all is the sight of the forever-closeted, good-natured Rima, legs waxed, hair permed, attending her friend's wedding in a frilly pink dress.
Caramel (Roadside Attractions) opens in the U.S. on February 1, 2007.