Layale (Labaki), the proprietor, lives with her parents and is having an affair with a married man. Jamale (Aouad) is struggling as an actor and feels her age as she waits alongside younger women for auditions. Nisrine (Al Masri) is stressed about her imminent wedding because of the fact that she isn't a virgin. And Rima (Moukarzel) pines over a customer, her longing neatly sublimated in luxurious shampooing.
Clearly, the stories have their share of pain, but the film is also lightly humorous, touching and (in a largely chaste kind of way) sensual. Caramel happens to be what Lebanese salons apparently use to wax their clients. Labaki shows herself to be a deft visual storyteller by the easy way she communicates this in the opening of the film and the sensual quality that quietly underlies it.
It doesn't require much detective work to realise the symbolic quality of something so sweet and delectable that also happens to hurt. Or the kinds of pain women subject themselves to in the pursuit of being beautiful and desired. However, the film returns to the support and solace that each character finds with the members of their gender. Indeed, the point is more about commiserating with the characters on the screen than anything overly didactic or revelatory.
Feminism, perhaps, sits in the back seat of this vehicle with little that is overtly political. Instead, the message is that sisterhood offers a solidarity between women in the face of society's restrictions and rewards.
Putting together four strong central female characters to deal with womanhood and relationships brings to mind the American television series Sex and the City. And much like that artifact, this one prominently features a city that impresses itself indelibly into the material.
Echoing Labaki's dedication to 'her' Beirut, the film is as much a sentimental portrait of a place, diverse and multicultural and sustaining, as it is an aspiration and a promise. Very little overly surprises in this largely predictable film, but with winning characters and some gorgeous cinema the experience is still enjoyable.
Director: Nadine Labaki
Cast: Nadine Labaki, Yasmine Al Masri, Gis?le Aouad, Joanna Moukarzel
2008. PG-13. 1 hr 36 min.