Caramel (review)

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The toast of festivals around the world and Lebanon’s selection in the Best Foreign Language Film category at this year’s Oscars, this sharp-eyed yet cosy film about five women navigating the dangerous shoals of change in a culture where tradition and modernity clash is as smart and heartfelt as it is observant about the universalities of the lives of women. Writer-director Nadine Labaki, making her feature debut, leads a luminous cast as a gaggle of female friends — young and old, Muslim and Christian — who work and hang out at a Beirut beauty salon, where undercurrents of unspoken expectations about what women should look like, how they should behave, and whom they should love — or not — bubble through everything they say and do. (The title refers to the gooey sugary goop used for hot-wax-style removal of unwanted, “unfeminine” hair.) Men and sex, and the disparaging of both, are frequent topics of conversation, but sweet, romantic guys — a traffic cop who’s secretly in love with Labaki’s salon owner, for instance — outnumber the bastards by a long shot. Why, it’s enough to give chick flicks a good name.

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