To make the titular substance of Nadine Labaki’s Beirut-set first feature, sugar must be heated just so or the result will be a tarry disaster. Although certainly sweet, Caramel’s liability is that it rests at too tepid a temperature.
For those who’ve seen Venus Beauty Institute—or Beauty Shop—the template will be a familiar one: the sororal setting and consciousness-raising-lite vibe of the salon. Various concerns bedevil the protagonists: Depilator Layale (Labaki) has a married lover; stylist Nisrine (Al Masri) hasn’t told her fiancé she’s not a virgin; shampooer Rima (Moukarzel) likes ladies; customer Jamale (Aouad) fears aging.
The cast, primarily first-time performers, is charming, and every country (and culture) should have its own ya-ya sisterhood movies. But Labaki, who cowrote the script with two men, is too cautious. Rather than being Lebanon’s answer to The L Word’s Shane, Rima is allowed only a few furtive ogles on a bus and the ministering of a lather and rinse to a longhaired beauty. Then again, the soft butch sees more onscreen action than her pals. As Layale prepares to remove a customer’s errant hairs with caramel, she yells, “Heat the sugar, please.” One wishes Labaki had done the same for her film—perhaps by heating the sugar walls.
Cast and crew
Yasmine Al Masri