Home | Review Archive | The Bucket 'Blog | Screening Log | Film Festival Coverage | Contact Danny



Starring: Nadine Labaki, Adel Karam, Ismail Antar, Aziza Semaan

Directed by: Nadine Labaki

Produced by: Anne-Dominique Toussaint

Written by: Nadine Labaki, Rodney Al Haddad, Jihad Hojeily
Distributor: Roadside Attractions

As seen at AFI Fest 2007:

     Nadine Labaki’s Caramel is a strange bird: a film that explores the socio-political persecution of females in the Middle East while still maintaining a frothy, light-hearted tone. Prominent as its background-conflict—the plight of women in Muslim areas of Lebanon—may be to its characters’ lives, it certainly doesn’t interfere with their embrace of a classic “feel-good” story. In fact, Caramel is rather light-hearted for the majority of its running length, operating as an affable character-study following the lives of the employees and customers of a Beirut beauty parlor.

     The protagonist of Caramel is Layale (Labaki herself, who is radiant and tremendously attractive in the role), the proprietor of the focal beauty shop. Layale lives a troubled personal life, caught up in an affair with a married man who isn’t particularly interested in having a relationship with her so much as he is in the ability to have sex with two different women. At Layale’s side are employees Nisirine (Yasmine Al Masri), who is engaged to be married but doesn’t know how to tell her traditionalist Muslim husband that she isn’t a virgin (or hide the fact from him), and Rima (Joanna Moukarzel), who fully realizes her lesbian sexuality when a mysterious client begins to attract her. Layale’s main clients include Jamale (Gisele Aouad), a middle-aged woman coping with the process of aging, and Rose (Siham Haddade), an old regular to the parlor who is constantly troubled by her elderly quack of an older sister.

     Caramel’s characters prove endearing and the movie is almost uniformly well-acted. Still, there is little inherently original about the story or its participants. What is most fascinating about the film is the intimate look that it provides Western viewers of Lebanese culture. Typically, Lebanon is regarded as a very modern nation because of the large percentage of Christians living there (at least compared to those in other Arab countries). Still, as one watches Caramel, one learns that a major part of the average Lebanese citizen’s lifestyle (particularly that of a woman) is dictated by traditional Islamic Law. This aspect of the film proves particularly riveting when Layale tries to rent a hotel room for she and her forbidden partner to spend their anniversary in. At nearly every location, she is denied this ability because she doesn’t share his last name (and is therefore presumably not married to him, meaning a sexual relationship between the two is morally forbidden).

     And yet, as eye-opening as Caramel may seem to me, an American, I must also consider how other audiences might respond to it. If I was a man of Lebanese descent watching the movie, I would probably find it mediocre and rather boring. While the artistic elements of the film are not inherently bad, they certainly lack inspiration and are only slightly better than what you might find in a good Lifetime Original Movie. If I was a female of Lebanese descent, I would be even less interested in the movie because I wouldn’t be captivated by the action of staring at Lebaki’s luscious face (her notable charm aside). As a straightforward piece of cinema, cultural insights disregarded, Caramel is thoroughly unoriginal. As such, I am only able to recommend the movie to those who would like to learn about Lebanese culture without having to endure tedious History Channel programs on the subject.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 11.20.2007

Screened on: 11.2.2007 at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, CA.


Caramel is rated PG and runs 95 minutes.

Back to Home