What happened to you Nadine Labaki? A tasteful Caramel served on MUBI


This not a film critique, this is a love letter to a film.
I just finished watching Caramel on MUBI and, ladies and gentlemen, I am totally shocked. How on earth could I have misjudged this film? In 2008, I watched five minutes of Caramel and I decided it does not deserve my royal attention. Last night after watching it to the end, I was ashamed of myself for ignoring such a masterpiece. As punishment I sentenced myself to watch three episodes of the Game of Thrones!

I asked myself, what happened to Nadine of Caramel? Of course, I liked her other films as well—in 2012 I talked to Nadine and interviewed her about Where Do We Go Now?, a clever antiwar film. Miracle, the seven-minute episode she directed for the feature I Love Rio was interesting too. Capernaum, nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film, deserved to win the Oscar instead of the soulless and overrated Roma.

Caramel is the story of five women from Beirut and the film mainly takes place in a beauty salon. Nadine plays Layale, a hair stylist that is trapped in a tragic relationship with a married man. Layla has two co-workers, Nisrine (Yasmine Al Massri) and Rima (Joanna Moukarzel). Nisrine is about to get married and she is worried to death that her husband may find out that she is not a virgin and, with the help of her friends, is trying to find a doctor that could recreate her virginity. Rima, a very beautiful young girl, shows signs of liking women. A very interesting character in the film is Rose (Sihame Haddad), a middle-aged woman who runs a tailor shop right next to the hair salon. Rose has an older sister, Lili (Aziza Semaan), who has some mental issues and stirs up trouble in Rose’s life, especially when she finds love for the first time.

I did not just watch Caramel, I lived with its characters. Caramel is like fine, aged wine that you taste carefully, sip and drink it to the last drop. I wanted to call Giuseppe Tornatore and tell him that I finally found the fascinating and fragile soul of your Cinema Paradiso in another film.

Watching Caramel, I did not dare to pause the film even for a second—I was worried that it may disappear from the screen and never comes back.

Nadine as an actress, playing Leyla, reminded me of the way Sophia Loren always lived her parts instead of acting them. As a director, Nadine overcomes a problem that many great directors fail to handle: dealing with so many characters and letting us know them well and feel for them and love them. Even a side character like Lili, the old woman with a mental problem that loves collecting papers in the streets, has been developed masterfully.

Analyses of Caramel is as impossible as the analyses of a rose’s petals. The great Jorge Luis Borges believed that if you try to understand a rose by taking its petals off and one by one, you end up with nothing. Therefore, all I can tell you is that you should rush to watch Caramel on MUBI before it expires.

PS: I suggest that MUBI should set up a complimentary subscription for President Donald Trump to watch Caramel. Maybe the magic of Nadine could overcome his ignorance about the world.


About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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