It is not often while watching a film that you feel as if you’re having a conversation with the director. That there is such care and intimacy reflected in the text and images, and that you can feel how personal its subject matter is.
Caramel is Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s first film. Labaki also wrote the screenplay with Rodney El Haddael and Jihad Hojeily
Centered around a beauty salon the film follows the relationships and lives of 5 women. A mixture of sugar, water and lemon make up the symbolic substance of caramel used in the salon to pull hair from legs. It’s a sort of wax.
In its opening imagery this film acknowledges the importance of sensuality and a woman’s desires for her life. The camera pans over a thick gooey golden mass of caramel as the main characters take bites out of the sugary heap before waxing their client’s legs.
Caramel depicts positive relationships between women in a world where so many mainstream films do the opposite. Most women can see themselves in this film. They will not see some two-dimensional rendering of what they should be. It’s about more than that though. We also see the struggles that these Lebanese women have with religion and culture conflicting against desire and their own morality. A divorcee is obsessed with youth, Layale is in love with a married man, Nisrine played by Yasmine Elmasri is about to get married and has to pretend that she is still a virgin and Jamale played by Gisele Aouad is attracted to another woman.
The importance of family connection is highlighted in this film. This is where a western audience may feel pangs of jealousy because it is not within the North American tradition to have that same commitment and connection to family.
The colour palatte is rustic. Warm browns and reds seep into the corners of every frame. Every element of this film feels personal. The music is seductic and is filled with care and love. Tragedy feels real but is comforted by the strain of singer, Rachah Rizk’s voice.
This is one of the best films I’ve seen in a while and I wish I could have seen it on the big screen.