Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 07/19/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"SUKKAR BANAT (CARAMEL) marks a fine directorial debut for the stunningly beautiful Lebanese actress Nadine Labaki. Though films about the private lives of a circle of women who gather in a mutual watering hole to gossip, share joys and pains of love affairs, as well as being the important support group they all need are plentiful (think STEEL MAGNOLIAS), few come as close to the intimacy shared by this talented cast whose disparate problems keep the film flying. The screenplay by Rodney El Haddad and Jihad Hojeily is greatly enhanced by the cinematography by Yves Sehnaoui with the atmospheric musical score by Khaled Mouzannar, but it is the impeccable cast that completes this tender, humorous, and gently sentimental little tale.
The film shows us a Lebanon we rarely see. The setting is a Beirut beauty salon La Belle owned by Layale (Nadine Labaki) whose frequent absences from her place of business are due to trysts with a married man, trysts often delayed by a police officer, the handsome and infatuated Youssef (Adel Karram). Working in the shop is Rima (Johanna Moukarzel) whose same sex infatuation with a beautiful patron is subtly explored, and regulars in the salon include an aging wannabe actress Jamale (Gisèle Aouad), a non virgin bride to be Nisrine (Yasmine Elmasri) and an older seamstress Rose (Sihame Haddad) who has elected to relinquish her hopes for love with a willing and potential elderly man Charles (Dimitri Staneofski) in favor of continuing to care for her humorously senile mother Lili (Aziza Semaan).
How these unforgettable characters interact, displacing each other's anxieties by caring friendship freely shared, offers each of these fine actresses many moments of glory in addition to creating a fine ensemble effect as sensitively directed by Nadine Labaki. This little film (in Arabic and French with subtitles) is a complete pleasure and will likely draw attention to future films from Lebanon. Grady Harp, July 08"
"Your name is my prayer..."
Mark Barry at Reckless Records, Lon | UK | 09/21/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Caramel" is not what you'd expect of Lebanese filmmaking and in particular movies about that most troubled of their cities - Beirut. I found it touching, unbelievably insightful and genuinely romantic too - it's one of the loveliest watches I've had the pleasure of seeing in years.
The largely unknown cast is superb and each deserves specific mention: NADINE LABAKI plays LAYALE - the sexy yet scatterbrained 35-year old owner of "Si Belle" - a salon that acts as emotion-central for co-workers and girlfriends. Layale is having a giddy but demeaning affair with a married man whom we never see except as a shadow in a car under a bridge - or hear him - as he honks his horn outside the premises for her to come running...
YASMINE AL MASRI plays NISRINE - one of Layale's best workers - the beautiful and young Nisrine is having doubts about her forthcoming marriage to BASSAM a headstrong modern man played by ISMAL ANTAR. Bassam is a man who will take on the oppressive state and even God rather than capitulate; Nisrine's also worried that Bassam might not want her should he find out about her less-than-virginal past
GISELE AOUAD plays JAMALE TARABAY - a customer and friend of the younger ladies. Jamale's mid to late 40's, an actress who is getting too old to nab the lucrative advert roles anymore and goes to sad and desperate lengths to stay young-looking.
JOANNA MOUKARZEL plays the slightly butch RIMA - a lowly washer of hair in the saloon who falls silently and breathlessly in love with a beautiful woman who walks in off the street one afternoon. She is played by FATME SAFA - and may even share with shy Rima the love that dares not speaks its name...
SIHAM HADDAD plays the stoical and ceaselessly loving ROSE (Rima's 60+ Aunt) who lives across the street from the salon in her haberdashery business. LILI, her even older sister (played to stunning perfection by AZIZA SEMAAN) is a mouthy old curmudgeon who picks up bits of paper off the streets and tells everyone there's a plane coming to take her and her lover away. Rose is driven to despair by Lili's increasingly difficult senility until one day a gentleman caller comes in for a suit alteration. His name is CHARLES played by a debonair DIMITRI STANCOFSKY - Charles says little, but his kind and warm glances reawaken a tenderness in Rose she'd long thought gone - and of course poses her with a horrible family conundrum....
ADEL KARAM plays YOUSSEF the parking-ticket Policeman who longs for Layale from a distance, but she is too busy screwing up her life to notice. Youssef is handsome, decent and right for her, if only Layale would stop sticking her tongue out at him...
FADIA STELLA plays the redheaded and lovely CHRISTINE KHOURI, wife of Rahid, the feckless husband we never see. She comes calling to "So Beautiful" for a free waxing one afternoon after a phone-call the previous day to her home by a sappily desperate Layale. Or perhaps Christine's there to size up the threat to her marriage and her lovely young daughter...
There are many other cameos and they're all excellent.
Nadine Labaki - the principal actress and director - co-wrote the script with RODNEY EL HADDAD and JIHAD HOJEILY. It's her 1st film and she could easily have shirked the undeniable downside of their world in order to make the film a more palatable package for Western viewers - but she doesn't. The eternal shame heaped on women by virtue of religious guilt in all things that they do - the double standards of the authorities - the legacy of war lingering malevolently in the background - all of is subtly woven into crucial scenes. Their lives are not given to you in a preachy or clichéd manner, but in a way that shows you just what a Middle Eastern woman has to cope with nowadays. They laugh like us, they cry, they triumph, they make their mistakes, take stock, get back up again - and try their damnedest to be modern in a world inextricably tied into a two-thousand year old past. Family acts as the bedrock - friends are cherished - and love - like in every society - is the simple and deeply sought after goal for all. It's a positive and refreshing film and a view of Beirut city life that you just don't ever see.
The script is full of deftly insightful stuff too - scenes that are just so funny, tender, sad, romantic: the kid under the family dinner table looking up Nisrine's skirt because she and Bassam were playing touchy-feely legs and he knows the woman can't rat him out; the tenderness between Charles and Rose as he quietly sugars her tea in his apartment after she's returned his altered gentleman's trousers; Jamale sat on a toilet using a bottle of ink on tissue paper to feign her still having youth; Rima's lovely face as she falls in love, softly washing the long flowing jet-black hair of a stunningly beautiful customer in the lean-back sink...her huge brown eyes as she looks back up at Rima....and smiles...
To effortlessly move from the old-world respect of the elderly couple to the sensual playfulness of the young lesbians in the salon is fantastic writing.
"Caramel" blew me away - it made me ache for these good people and their hopes and aspirations and dreams. But if you want real persuasion, there are FOUR nomination references on the DVD's rear sleeve, one of which is the WINNER of the AUDIENCE AWARD at the "San Sebastian Film Festival". Not the critics - not the industry insiders - the 'audience' award. That public knew a winner when they saw one.
Joy, pride and heart went into the making of this little foreign film (called "Sukkar Banat" in some territories) - and as the credits role and Nadine Labaki's dedication tells you the movie is "For My Beirut" - it's hard not to be impossibly moved.
Put "Caramel" high on your rental/to buy list. And then make a beeline for Mira Nair's "The Namesake" - another peach of a movie - cut with the same tenderness and grace.
PS: the title of this review is a lyric from a love song sung by Rima at Nisrine's wedding"
Puzzle box | Kuwait | 05/23/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Wow what can I say, I was really impressed by this. Caramel has got to be one of the best and most well-done films that I've ever seen come out of Lebanon. It's was wonderfully shot using the best cinematography in an Arabic film, the colors were very vibrant which shows all the great sights of Beirut. Caramel a.k.a. Sukkar Banat is the directorial debut of the stunningly beautiful actress Nadine Labaki who also co-wrote the script with Rodney El Haddad and Jihad Hojeily, the film revolves around the lives of five women working in and around a beauty salon in Beirut. Layale played by Nadine is caught up in an affair with a married man and obsessed with his unwitting wife, wanting to know what it is that always draws him back home.
And Nisrine (Yasmine Elmasri) is due to be married, but nervous about the potential consequences of her past indiscretions and also being Muslim causes alot more problems if her parents find out. Tomboyish Rima (Joanna Moukarzel), whose socially dangerous lesbian romance with a customer is portrayed entirely in metaphor - here are some of the great images and visuals of hairdressing you'll ever see. Jamale (Gisele Aouad) who is struggling to make a career as an actress and to convince everyone (including herself) that she's still young but is quite old and has two kids and one of them is a teenager, still has a few issues to deal with. And Rose, an aging seamstress whose devotion to her senile old sister has left her life pass her by and a chance to be with someone who she seems to be in love with.
Each character was interesting and unique in their own way, some Western viewers might not get some of the humor unless you know some Arabic culture but I definitely think that this film would appeal to a large audience, it doesn't matter where you come from cause it's definitely a very enjoyable film and it has universal themes of love, struggle and the mixing of modern society with older tradition and values and the acting was fantastic from all of the cast, some of whom weren't even professional actors. I really liked the characters especially Jamale who provided most of the humor as the aging wanna be actress. The film also reminded me of a time when I was a kid growing up in Jordan, Lebanon is kind of similar cause it has a large Christian population so you would see every passing store with pictures of the virgin Mary (That was before me and my family moved to Kuwait), it has to do with the Catholic imagery in the film, not everyone we follow in turn follows the same religion.
This film really brought back alot of memories from my youth, with the old apartment buildings and narrow streets which was kind of neat you can also see an obvious mixture of both cultures and religions in Lebanon, this film however stays away from most of the politics of the region and just focuses on the story. Anyway I'm not really a big fan of Romantic comedies or art house films and yet I must say I was quite impressed by this brilliant film, and it seemed to have more depth and meaning than your average romantic drama and comedy flick. I highly recommend this and two thumbs up. "
Five women trying to find their place in life in Beirut
Utah Blaine | Somewhere on Trexalon in District 268 | 09/26/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This film presents a slice-of-life type drama/romantic comedy of five women in Beirut. Four of the women work in a hair salon, the fifth is a seamstress next door and aunt of one of the salon owners. We follow their ups and downs, their hopes and dreams. This a film about relationships and about friendship and about choices. We learn about the relationships between all the women and the ups and downs in their love lives. The love lives of all five women is complicated in some way. The main character Layale (played by Nadine Labaki, who also wrote and directed the film) is in love with a man who is married to another women. She goes through all sorts of machinations for this man, but in the end, he doesn't really love her and won't leave his wife. One of the women is a Muslim and soon to be married. Her lack of virginity may be a problem on her wedding day. One of the women is a lesbian who is attracted to one of the customers at the salon, and the fourth woman is older and divorced with kids but actively looking for romance. Layale's aunt lives next door and meets an American to whom she is attracted. There is really a lot to like about this film. Each of the women must make choices about their relationships and live with the consequences one way or the other. Some of these choices work out well, others not so good. Through it all though is their friendship for each other. This film also presents an interesting insight into daily life in Beirut. It explores some of the complexities of the intermixed confessional nature of Lebanese life, and provides a small window into life in Beirut. A well-done romantic comedy/drama, definitely worth a look."
Love & Laughs with Sweet, Painful Caramel
D. Hupp | Woodbridge, VA United States | 06/18/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Delightful, light-hearded dramatic comedy set in present-day Beirut, Lebanon. Some scenes are visually funny, such as when all 3 of the women who work at the beauty salon and one of their close friends and patrons are getting ready for Nasrine's wedding. Many of the scenes that show the caring-frustrating relationship between the 2 older ladies (presumably sisters) who live across the street from the salon are humorous, and some are very touching.
This is a very well acted and directed film that will touch your heart and funny-bone. I found the changing focus from one character to the other to be well done. Rather than depend on lots of dialogue to learn about the lives, loves, and vulnerabilities of each character, the director (who had one of the main roles in the film -- Nadine Labaki/"Layale") relied on short "action" vignettes to enable the viewer to look into each person's life. This technique enabled the film to move at a steady pace and still provide plenty of depth to each character and the overall story.
While the film focuses primarily on the lives of 5 women (6, if you count the demented Lili, and I do count her as a major character), the male characters and their roles in the film provide add depth and texture to the lives of the lead women. The 3 main male actors give excellent performances too, although their characters are seen in light of their relationships with the female leads in the film.
I highly recommend this film/DVD to all who want to enjoy an entertaining story set in a westernized part of the Middle East yet that has a universal appeal to film buffs."