Delightful, surprising foreign sleeper from first time director Nadine Labaki finds the filmmaker doing triple duty as a co-writer and the enchanting lead of the Roadside Attractions release Caramel. An official selection at the Toronto International Film Festival as well as Lebanon’s cinematic submission to the Best Foreign Language Film Category of the 80th Academy Awards, Labaki takes what in another’s hands may have been a typical chick flick set up of five Lebanese women who live and work in or around a beauty salon in Beirut and turns it into a charming, bittersweet tale of love, self-discovery and gender equality without once getting sappy or falling into a stereotypical “you go girl” paradigm.
Labaki stars as the gorgeous Layale, a single beautician famous for her caramel waxes that keep her Beirut clients smooth and hair-free who finds her own life tangled up by her devotion to her married lover that seems all the more magnified when contrasted by her engaged best friend and coworker Nisrine (Yasmine Elmasri) as they approach Nisrine’s nuptials. Rounding out the group is the shy and loyal Rima (Joanna Moukarzel) who unexpectedly forms a romantic attachment to a stunning client as they bond over sensuous hair-washing, the aging, struggling actress Jamale (Gisele Aouad) who fights against time to stay young and perky to compete with unrealistic standards of beauty in her profession and feel worthy as a woman, as well as the women’s seamstress neighbor Rose (Sihame Haddad) who, after years of taking care of her senile elder sister Lili (Aziza Semaan) finds herself faced with a last chance for love.
Likably engrossing as well as alternately sweet and heartbreaking, Labaki’s Caramel offers a brilliant showcase for its multitalented writer/helmer/performer and also serves as a much needed cinematic offering to women around the globe who, given the last overwhelmingly testosterone fueled year at the movies, deserved something intelligent and refreshing and something that-- similar to the experience clients have when leaving Layale and Nisrine’s salon-- of feeling beautiful and valuable for themselves as women of worth.