4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars
Take sugar, water and lemon juice, mix it up and you’ve got Beirut’s favourite depilatory product, a sticky goo which removes feminine hair, though not without a certain struggle. Such is the eponymous ‘Caramel’ in actor-writer-director Nadine Labaki’s delightful first feature, an ensemble drama that explores the secret world of a Lebanese beauty parlour where the women struggle to make the best of a society which so often limits their options.

Labaki herself plays the thirtysomething daughter from a Christian family, who should of course be off their hands by now – except she’s having a secret affair with a married man. Her Muslim co-workers meanwhile have problems of their own, including a bride desperate to hide the fact that she’s not quite as virginal as her in-laws would like to believe, and a tomboy-ish type whose only apparent outlet for her sexual longings is delivering creamy scalp massage to an obviously colluding female client.

In surroundings of faded would-be glamour, Lebanon’s bloody recent history and religious tensions barely get much of a look-in, since the film prioritises personal intrigues, played out by a largely non-professional cast (the mad old ladies next door are particular treasure) who bring an impeccable authenticity to the proceedings. Labaki’s direction favours an affectionate amble: her screenplay throws up few genuine surprises, yet this is, frankly, a lovely film. Insisting on the bittersweet buzz of tiny female victories in the fraught milieu she describes as ‘my Beirut’, it’s lovingly shaped and deeply felt, a happy-sad charmer which deserves a wide audience.



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