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Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Sweet enough cinematic titbit but not quite the satisfying treat one might have anticipated. (Review by Billy Suter, courtesy of The Mercury)

Lebanon’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category at this year’s Academy Awards, Caramel is not quite the satisfying treat one might have anticipated but, like the high-cal confection from which it borrows its title, it’s shot in a golden light and is a sweet enough cinematic titbit.

Directed by and starring the lovely Nadine Labaki, hitherto associated with the production of glossy ads and music videos, the film is a slice-of-life chronicle of six women whose lives continually cross in Beirut, mostly in and around a beauty salon owned by Labaki’s character, Layale.

It focuses on their daily grind, their friendships and squabbles, as well as their hopes and dreams and mostly, with all but one of the characters, their sexual and romantic cravings.

Caramel also touches on such issues as religious traditions and extramarital affairs, a particular taboo in Lebanese circles.

Layale is involved in an affair with a married man, rushing off at the drop of a hairpin whenever he cares to ring her, and her pals and employees, Nisrine (Yasmine Al Masri) and Rima (Joanna Moukarzel), are always there to catch her when she stumbles and falls.

They too have their secrets and lies – Nisrine is about to be married to a conservative man but admits to not being a virgin, and Rima is becoming increasingly aware of her lesbian desires while becoming infatuated with a gorgeous female customer (Fatmed Safa) who returns her loving glances while she has her hair washed.

Then there’s seamstress Rose (Sihame Haddad), who lives across the road from the salon, and who is not able to accept a love ripe for the taking because of commitments to her elderly, senile older sister, Lili (a shrill but fun Aziza Semaan), who spends most of the film collecting scraps of paper in the street, thinking they’re love letters.

The least interesting of the characters is regular salon client Jamale (Gisele Aouad), a failed mutton-like-lamb actress who abhors the idea of ageing and titivates constantly as she flits from one audition to another. Scrapping this character to instead devote more time to the others would have made for a better movie.

Also contributing to the story is a handsome cop (Adel Karam) who goes out of his way to meet Layale, with whom he becomes smitten and imagines conversations.

Caramel’s pacing is a little leisurely at times, and some characters are far less interesting than others, but performances are good, there’s a nice mix of drama and humour, and it’s refreshing to note that the ending doesn’t follow happy-ever-after Hollywood conventions. (6/10) – Billy Suter