Cannes Film Festival 2007 (Directors Fornight)–A chick flick from Lebanon, Caramel, is the impressive feature directorial debut of Nadine Labaki, the attractive helmer and performer, who previously had made some commercials and music videos.
Any film that gets made in Lebanon these days should be celebrated, considering the political state of the country and its struggling film industry. This Lebanese-French production premiered at the Directors Fortnight in Cannes, which was rather weak this year. Since mo many Lebanese picture are made, let alone by women and about women, Caramel should travel the festival road and perhaps even get limited theatrical distribution.
It seems that every national cinema has made a film set in a beauty parlor, including Hollywood, from George Cukors 1939 classic The Women (about to be remade by Picture House) to Steel Magnolias, which put on the map Julia Roberts. Its a natural site where women congregate and discuss issues that pertain to their gender without having to worry about males being around.
Caramel, co-scripted by Labaki, Johad Hojeily, and Rodney Al Haddad, centers on half a dozen women who represent a cross-section of contempo Lebanese society. Labaki plays Layale, a woman on the verge of, after a sour ending to her romance. She pours her heart to her peers at the salon, Nisrine (Yasmine Al Masri), about to undergo a delicate plastic surgery before her wedding, and Rima (Joanna Mouarzel), who may hold the record for playing the first lesbian I know of in an Arabic-speaking film.
As the day progresses, we meet Jamale (Gisele Aouad), a woman who has hard time accepting her aging, and another chatty client Rose (Siham Haddad), a woman burdened with taking care of her mentally challenged older sister.
Amazingly, politics stays in the background of Caramel, a movie more concerned with universal issues of female friendship and camaraderie. As co-writer and director, Labaki has the good sense to include both Muslim and Christian women, showing both similarities and differences in their respective cultures and their impact on womens routine, everyday lives.
The movie is uniformly well-acted by a largely cast of amateurs, according to the directors introduction. Though decidedly not great or even significant film, Caramel offers a pleasant, entertaining experience, adding an honorable panel to the growing body of films about women.
When asked, Labaki was reluctant to explain the title of her picture, which some viewers took as ironic whereas others interpreted literally.
It may be an interesting idea to compare films, made by different national cinemas, that are set in beauty parlors and examine their indigenous as well as more universal concerns.