TORONTO — Audiences are staying sweet on Nadine Labaki’s “Caramel.” Pic, about five Lebanese women working in a Beirut beauty salon, has already garnered 370,000 admissions in France and a further 70,000 admissions in Lebanon since its mid-August bow in both countries. The infectious dramedy is on course to become the most successful Lebanese film of all time in both territories.
“Caramel” received its North American preem with a gala bow at the Toronto Film Festival and has been selected for the Times BFI 51st London Film Festival.
Here are some excerpts of an exclusive interview Labaki conducted with Variety.
Q. Where did the idea for “Caramel” come from?
Nadine Labaki: I think it started from questions that I was asking myself about who we are as Lebanese women. I used to see that Lebanese women go to extremes. They’re very excessive. I don’t know if that’s the right word. They sometimes do stuff that seems very excessive. When they put on makeup, they put on a lot of makeup. When they put on sexy stuff, they put on very tight clothes. When they want to be conservative, they are too conservative. It’s either this or that.
I couldn’t find a lot of women — I’m not saying all women are like that — who have the right balance, the right equilibrium. I started asking myself these questions and I wanted to understand why. It’s like therapy for me. I started taking examples of Lebanese women of different ages, different cultures, different religions, each one with a struggle. I’m not trying to make a resume, but I wanted to take examples of different struggles.
We put the women in a beauty salon because this is where women feel very comfortable. It’s where women come to make themselves more beautiful. It’s where they have a lot of hopes because Lebanese women attach a lot of importance to their appearance. It’s a place where they can confide easily, because if you’re in front of a woman who is waxing you, and you are completely naked in front of her, she sees your every detail.
Q. The film avoids talking about war or politics.
NL: I never thought about writing a film about war maybe because I’m trying to come up with situations or stories that I like to imagine myself in.
Being a director gives me the chance to create worlds that I would like to see or live in. I wanted to create a world that has nothing to do with war because this is the way I see my country. This is the way I want it to be. I want to talk about normal life, normal people, normal emotions that have nothing to do with the tensions of war or the fear of war or the issues of co-existence. I just wanted to be in a world where it’s very normal to co-exist and it’s easy to live normally with normal emotions like any other country.
I’m not interested in talking about war, but to be honest with you, when I finished filming, and the war started, I had a huge sense of guilt. I started thinking that I’m doing a film about life that is very colorful, about Lebanese women who are trying to survive, who talk about makeup and waxing and adultery and stuff that has nothing to do with the very important issue of war. How am I going to do any good for my country by not talking about the war?
I had huge doubts, and it was very hard, but then I realized that maybe this is my way of contributing or trying to say we are people who want to survive in all situations. Maybe giving an optimistic message is my own way of revolt. I think the message in the film is about co-existence and living normally. And they love each other and they’re very close and they’re best friends, so I hope it gives the message of that.