Directed by: Nadine Labaki
Written by: Nadine Labaki, Rodney El Haddad, Jihad Hojeily
Starring: Nadine Labaki, Adel Karam, Yasmine Al Massri, Joanna Moukarzel, Gisèle Aouad
Romantic relationships can leave such an impact on our day to day life. Something ranging from casual to martial yet grabs a hold of us and never truly lets go because ultimately we are such emotional creatures. It’s what makes romantic comedies so entertaining and Caramel provides stories we’ve seen before but refreshingly through the eyes of Lebanese women.
Within a beauty shop in Beirut, four women each confide in the others about their recent romantic issues. Layale (Nadine Labaki) struggles with her relationship with a married man, Nisrine (Yasmine Al Massri) will get married soon but fears her husband will discover she’s not a virgin, Rima (Joanna Moukarzel) has discovered her attraction to women, and Jamale (Gisèle Aouad) struggles with getting older. Together they each try to help each other out.
Comedy and romance exist in every culture even if those stories do not permeate into the hub of the United States. Caramel opens up Lebanon in a beautiful manner, which shows the flourishing nature of its people and the women trying to live their lives within it. The struggles each of these women face goes against the culture established in their country and for several others. Within their struggles, it reaches infidelity, homosexuality, and pre-marital sexual relations. Some of these are seen as abominations and others as disgraceful actions by all parties involved. This makes the salon and the friendship these women have amassed so crucial to their experience as women. Even when considering how serious their actions may be on a cultural level, it’s great to see Caramel have such a light tone, which fits into the romantic-comedy genre.
These issues take a backseat and focus on the experiences of these four women and how they want to overcome their hurdles and pursue their desires. Even with all four women getting their own arcs, the story has more of a focus on Layale. Her relationship with a married man has her questioning her worth on several occasions. Whether it be only meeting with her beau in her car in isolated places or the reality of there being no future and why she’s wasting this time with someone like him. Hijinx occurs as she tries to discover what her next steps should be and the character gets portrayed well by actor/director Nadine Labaki. She takes on this dual role and adds the light nature she wants flowing through the story. Labaki’s in full control of this story and enjoys playing with the different narratives going on seeing as she co-wrote the screenplay as well.
The color palette and lighting plays with the title of the movie, as it features a yellow-brown filter over the entire story. It appears to be a haze hanging over everything occurring with these women. It beautifully fits with the mood set by Labaki, as it creates this sort of agency. With their romantic issues dealing with other people, including men, it remains their story throughout. The narrative does not care about the feelings of the men involved and how it plays into their decision making, it never ceases to be about Layale and her friends.
This story feels incredibly refreshing because it provides insight into what Lebanese women enjoy about their lives. Coming into this film as an American, we get painted this idea as to what conditions are in other nations and particularly how women fare. These ignorant takes fail to allow the people within the borders to have agency in their stories, and the best way to learn about any culture is from the people themselves. Labaki does exactly that with this sweet and friendly film and took it to the Cannes Film Festival. It shows the liveliness and the agency these women have even within a culture where they may not have what western civilizations deem to be appropriate.
Light, funny, and compassionate, Caramel shows the beautiful bond between four women absent of judgment and filled to the brim with support. Each woman’s arc has its bits of humor and also a heartwarming moment that gives you faith everything will be okay. No matter their struggles, they always find a way to come together in their salon and share their lives with each other. It makes for an entertaining film, but also one to educate people about lives not often seen in mainstream filmmaking.