CARAMEL (Nadine Labaki). 96 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (February 22). Rating: NNNN
From Steel Magnolias to ’Da Kink In My Hair and now Caramel, the wom-en’s beauty shop has been a hotbed for sharing gossip and personal anxieties. You can even fall in love there.
In Caramel, five women who meet and work at a salon in Beirut are having love trouble. Director Nadine Labaki stars as Layale, who’s in love with a married man. Nisrine (Yasmine Elmasri), about to wed a Muslim, is not a virgin – a big problem. Rima (Joanna Moukarzel) is hot for a client. And Jamale (Gisèle Aouad) can’t face the fact that she’s aging.
And in the most heart-wrenching situation, Rose (Sihame Haddad), who runs a cleaners, cares for her older sister, whose condition is bordering on dementia.
Though these sound like stock situations, Caramel doesn’t treat them that way. It teases with romantic possibilities that don’t evolve predictably. And there are some exquisite scenes: Nisrin and her mother on the day of the wedding, Rose’s puzzlement when client Charles (Dimitri Staneofski) keeps coming back to get his trousers made shorter.
Of the many works that have used the salon setting, ’Da Kink makes the most of it – the identity issues around black women’s hair are so loaded. But Caramel takes a page out of Kink’s playbook when Rima tries to convince her crush to cut her hair. Same with a scene in which Layale uses caramel – always painfully hot – to remove hair from her romantic rival.
Moments like that make Caramel a movie that’ll stick in your senses.