Caramel’s treatment of sticky issues too sweet


on December 19, 2007 by Susan Green

You could call it the Lebanese Steel Magnolias. Nadine Labaki’s Caramel is centered in a Beirut salon, where the beauticians endlessly carp, chuckle, cry, and commiserate. The director stars as Layale, who is having an affair with a married man, even as the unattached neighborhood cop (Dimitri Staneofski) begins to fancy her. Nisrine (Yasmine Al Masri), a Muslim but no virgin, feels desperate to remedy that condition before her impending wedding night.

Presumably even more forbidden in that society, tomboy Rima (Joanna Moukarzel) is not attracted to men. A customer, Jamale (Gisele Aouad), fights the aging process to save her career as an actress. And Rose (Sihame Haddad), a seamstress living nearby, must cope with her senile older sister (Aziza Semaan) periodically roaming the streets with deranged abandon—for laughs. But feminist issues that may be dangerous to tackle in the conservative Middle East are rendered silly by uneven performances and soap-opera overkill.

Distributor: Roadside
Cast: Nadine Labaki, Yasmine Al Masri, Joanna Moukarzel, Dimitri Staneofski, Gisele Aouad, Sihame Haddad, Aziza Semaan and Adel Karam
Director: Nadine Labaki
Screenwriters: Nadine Labaki, Jihad Hojeily and Rodney El Haddad
Producer: Anne-Dominique Toussaint
Genre: Comedy drama; Arabic- and French-language, subtitled
Rating: PG for thematic elements involving sexuality, language and some smoking
Running time: 97 min.
Release date: February 1, 2008 ltd.
Reviewed: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival

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