Dedicated ‘to my Beirut’, the charming, bitter-sweet debut feature of writer-director Nadine Labaki centres upon the ‘Si Belle’ beauty parlour in the Lebanese capital. The 30-year-old proprietor Layale (Labaki herself) is guiltily conducting a clandestine affair with a married man, and her colleagues and their customers at the salon also have to deal with emotional difficulties. The Muslim Nisrine (Yasmine Al Masri) is worried that on their wedding night, her husband-to-be will discover that she is not actually a virgin. Rima (Joanna Moukarzel) is strongly attracted towards a beautiful woman, whose hair she washes. And would-be actress Jamale (Gisela Asoud) is desperately attempting to conceal her menopausal state, whilst the elderly seamstress Rosa (Siham Haddad) carries the burden of looking after her senile sister.
Caramel, whose title refers to the candy-coloured leg-wax concoction used in the salon, is a film where plot is very much secondary to the beguiling atmosphere. Although there are no references to the on-going strife in Lebanon, this is still a political film, in the sense that it allows the possibilities of friendships between individuals from different ethnic groups and examines how its characters are torn between their desires and the restrictive values of a patriarchal society: Layale for example cannot even book herself a hotel room because she is unmarried. Bathed in golden light and impressively acted by its almost entirely non-professional cast, this tender tribute to female solidarity ends on a high note by showing that a new haircut can be a joyful act of resistance.
Selected release from Fri 16 May.