As the Arab world’s premier music video helmer, Nadine Labaki made a name for herself as one of the first artists to push forward the image of the modern Arab woman thanks to her frequent collaborations with Lebanese pop star Nancy Ajram. With her first narrative feature, “Caramel,” Labaki has successfully crossed over to the bigscreen.

An aud fave at fests in Cannes and Toronto, not to mention across the Mideast, the tale of five Lebanese women working in a Beirut beauty salon, which Labaki also co-wrote and stars in, gets a U.S. release via Roadside Attractions.

The touching dramedy, which has racked up big B.O. numbers in both France and Lebanon since opening there last year, came hot on the heels of Labaki’s debut appearance in front of the camera in Lebanese helmer Philippe Aractingi’s 2005 local smash “Bosta.”

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The multihyphenate — who divides her time between Paris and Beirut — has enjoyed a charmed career to date. Even her thesis project in her final year at university, a short film titled “Eleven Past Thirty,” went on to win the first prize at both the Beirut Film Festival and the Institut du Monde Arabe’s Biennial Arab Film Festival in Paris.

It is a telling feature of Labaki’s personal style that her celluloid outings so far — whether behind or in front of the camera — have put the focus on laughter and cheers over tears and fears.

“She’s a sweet, sensitive person,” Aractingi says. “Away from this glamorous person you see in the news and magazines, she actually has this inner fragility which shows in her film and her personality.”

Labaki is currently prepping her sophomore feature, details of which — apart from the fact that it will be set in Beirut — she’s keeping under wraps.

While her native Lebanon has been beset by political turmoil for much of the last three years, Labaki’s films have been marked by a softness of touch and warmth all too rare in films emanating out of the region.

“Sometimes when you’re watching a film, a sentence can change your life or the way you think,” Labaki says. “I think we should have this kind of mission for Lebanon and the region right now. Moviemaking is not only for entertainment but also for saying things that can make a difference.”

PROVENANCE: Beirut, Lebanon
INSPIRED BY: Lars von Trier, the Coen brothers, Bahman Ghobadi. “The film that really inspired me was ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.’ I used to identify with her. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because we were always locked up at home because there was a war going on and no school. She made me dream of another life filled with songs and dance.”
REPS: Currently unrepresented in the U.S., although she has had offers from several major agencies.