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on 13 September 2008
Im not a huge fan of foreign films, i prefer to watch whats happening on screen rather than reading subtitles below it, but i borrowed this newly released film from a friend who persuaded me i would enjoy it.
Set in Lebanon the film is not what i expected. It was the perfect blend of comedy and sweetness and sad and heartwarming. The story follows a group of women who either work in or around a beauty salon and everyone has their secrets, from the woman who has a crush on one of her customers to an elderly women exeriencing true love for the first time. The women are all modern and in and out of love, like any romantic comedy, except these women are very restricted by their religion and their familys expectations. It made me laugh out loud in moments, and you do really care and feel for the characters. Lebanon looks absolutley gorgeous, exotic and vibrant, and with this film the director, Nadine Labaki, who also plays the lead, layala, shows us why she loves her country so much.
In short, its a funny, sweet, uplifting, heartwarming romantic comedy that just so happens to have subtitles!
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on 26 September 2008
I found this film inspiring. It is an intimate account of the lives of five women in Beirut. It is thought provoking and honest. It's realistic. Life is not like a Hollywood movie, as Caramel says, life is like a melon; you have to cut it to see if it's good.
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"Caramel" is not what you'd expect from 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 scatter-brained 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 - 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 (the title of this review is a lyric from a love song sung by Rima at Nisrine's wedding)...

SIHAM HADDAD plays the stoical and ceaselessly loving Rose - Rima's 65-year-old Aunt who lives across the street from the salon in her humble haberdashery business...

Lili (her even older sister) is played to heart-breaking perfection by AZIZA SEMAAN. Lili 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, 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.

As of June 2014 - the UK REGION 2 DVD on Momentum (Barcode 5060116722819 for the correct issue) is the only format to have this Lebanese language film in ENGLISH subtitles - English and English for the Hard of Hearing.

There are now two All Regions BLU RAY reissues: The German issue on Barcode 4042564130788 has two Audio tracks - German DD 5.1 and Arabic DD 5.1 - but has only German language subtitles. The French BLU RAY also has two Audio tracks - Lebanese and French 5.1 HD Master Audio - but with only French subtitles.

In short - both BLU RAY reissues have *NO ENGLISH SUBTITLES* of any kind for this Lebanese language film. The picture quality on both BLU RAYS is gorgeous but it's a damn shame someone doesn't release this lovely film for the English-speaking world on a BLU RAY we can actually use...
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on 15 October 2014
Dazzlingly-subtle exploration of female sexuality or, rather, the importance of sex and the erotic in women’s lives in forming their own sense of themselves. Only sexual jealousy and cattiness spoil the strong sense of female camaraderie here.

Although the women shown appear free and independent, their fears and anxieties eventually become all-too-obvious as many of them find it very hard to escape the bad social and sexist habits of the past. Here is a very family-oriented culture but, within that, there is the fierce capacity to stifle individuality before it can come into its own.

The performances are natural and unforced and there is also no getting away from the fact that director/star Nadine LABAKI is as beautiful to look at as she is very much a talent to watch. To have achieved so much in a first feature is rare indeed.
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on 25 June 2014
Sadly my fault, didn't realise there was no option for English subtitles on this version. I would love to see the film but unfortunately wasn't able to follow. It looks beautiful visually and would definitely upgrade my review if I could trade in for a copy with English subtitles.
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on 4 September 2014
Caramel is a beautifully made film that is so much better than the good film that I was expecting to watch – a film that I was sorry had to end. The DVD of the film together with over an hour of extra features is excellent.

The actors perform superbly, although from what Nadine Labaki says in “A Conversation With Nadine Labaki” it would seem that not all are experienced actors – though this is hard to believe given the performances that everyone gives.

The film is good on so many levels. As well as the acting, the directing from Nadine Labaki is just so clever and faultless that together with great music from Khaled Mouzanar (which won a Best Music award at the Cannes Film Festival), and sumptuous cinematography Caramel is a film that could be watched many times giving a little more on each viewing.

The extra features on the DVD are very informative and entertaining in themselves: “A Conversation With Nadine Labaki” (35 minutes); “A Conversation With Khaled Mouzanar” (12 minutes); “Behind The Scenes” (12 minutes); “At The Fistivals” (4 minutes); “Trailer” (1 minute).

The two “Conversations With” features if watched after the main film give an insight into some of the characters and the music within the film, potentially making further viewings of Caramel yet more rewarding still.

Caramel has won and been nominated for numerous awards and having watched it, it is easy to see why.

If you are thinking of buying this DVD I would urge you to do so – for me this is a most rewarding film.
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on 26 May 2008
I have also just seen this at my local arthouse cinema and have to say that I really enjoyed this film and spending some time in the company of the ladies at the Lebanese salon.

The characters are well rounded, we are not led by the hand but subtley introduced to there stories, following there ups and downs along the way.

This a wonderful character led story, the film is charming and romantic, and like the Caramel of the title (which is used in the salon to remove hair! Oww), can sometimes be bitter sweet.

Nadine Labaki, stars and directs this film, dedicated to her Beirut, and for me at least has done a wonderful job.
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on 24 May 2008
Just got back from seeing this at my local independent cinema and have put myself on the waiting list for the DVD as soon as I got home. It is sweet, beautiful and funny. It seems so unusual to come out of the pictures smiling and happy these days. Gentle and affectionate story telling, characters you care about, a calm measured pace, wonderful cinematography - best film I have seen in ages. I probably would have said it was definitely one for the girls, but the guy in the seat next to me loved it too...
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VINE VOICEon 10 November 2008
Sadly this movie turned out to be a bit of a let down and certainly not worth the £10 I spent on it. I didn't find the story particularly engaging as there are so many characters that it doesn't allow for any of them to be explored fully. As a result I wasn't attached to any of them and couldnt bring myself to care deeply about what happened to each of them. The storylines were a bit cliche to the point of painfully cheesy at times. However, it wasn't all bad and the snipets of some of their lives was bittersweet and touching.
All in all not something I'd strongly recommend but if you are desperate to watch it regardless try renting/borrowing as opposed to buying it.
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on 10 November 2015
I love Nadine Labaki's movies. It's a social drama with a pinch of humour and real life drama about a group of women living in Beirut. There are no peaks in the movie yet you will be glued to the TV until it's finished.
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