As the name suggests, “Caramel” is a sweet affair, hiding any bitter undertones under a sprightly, glistening exterior. Fresh from commercials and musicvids, novice helmer (and star) Nadine Labaki gathers five women around a Beirut beauty salon to address a range of issues facing Lebanese women — from extramarital affairs to religious dictates. Low on calories and not especially original but always diverting, pic should do great biz at home, though France may be its only Western market.
Layale (Labaki) is at the tail end of an affair, her breaking heart supported by salon colleagues Nisrine (Yasmine Al Masri) and Rima (Joanna Moukarzel). Latter is awakening to lesbian desires, while Nisrine opts for minor surgery before her wedding so it appears she’s still a virgin. Client Jamale (Gisele Aouad) can’t face aging and seamstress Rose (Sihame Haddad) wants to accept love but her elderly, half-crazy sister Lili (Aziza Semaan) needs constant attention. Helmer lightly addresses problems of hypocrisy in both Christian and Muslim communities, emphasizing a common female bond beyond beauty treatments. Labaki extracts surprisingly fine, natural perfs from non-pros, often bathed in a golden light in keeping with the title.