Review of “Caramel”

The characters in Caramel are all charming, each in his or her own way, and I found myself hoping that things would work out for them all. As in most ensemble-style films, however, every character suffers a bit from being one of many, and none of them are fully developed.

Going back to Rima’s story, for instance, there’s no indication how she feels about society’s views of her sexuality. While it’s nice not to endure the tortured lesbian angle yet again, the relationship, as it were, between Rima and her customer needs to be almost entirely be inferred by the audience. It’s at once subtle and electric, obvious and ignored.

While the characters are a bit thinly drawn, the performances are quite astonishing — even more so when one considers that Labaki cast all nonprofessional actors. Joanna Moukarzel is a manager with an appliance company, Gisèle Aouad is a personal assistant, Sihame Haddad is a housewife, and so on. Particularly impressive was Aziza Semaan’s performance as the mentally disturbed (and often hilarious) Lili; she was so absolutely natural that it felt like anything but acting.

Caramel cast members (left to right) Yasmine Elmasri (Nisrine), Nadine Labaki (Layale), Gisele Aouad (Jamale) and Joanna Moukarzel (Rima)

Keeping in line with the film’s title, Labaki and director of photography Yves Sehnaoui positively drench the screen in warm, sensual, soft light, creating a comforting atmosphere. It’s simply a gorgeous film to take in, whether you’re gazing at the afternoon sun streaming through the salon windows or any of the captivating actresses sitting inside. What Sehnaoui does with light, composer Khaled Mouzannar does with sound, crafting a dreamy blend of Western and Eastern music.

Caramel marks the feature film debut of Nadine Labaki, and it’s a strong one at that. It’s a romantic comedy/chick flick with a few layers, with a bit more to chew on than the standard trite Hollywood fare. In the end, I simply found myself wanting more time with these alluring women; I wanted to see where their paths led, and I wanted them all to find happiness.

Again, the film provides no easy answers and, as in life, not everything gets tied up in a nice little package. If the biggest complaint I have about Caramel is that it ended too soon, well, I suppose that’s not much of a complaint at all.

For more on the film, visit its official website.