Behind the Scenes Caramel

In a world ravaged by a virus infection, turning its victims into the Undead, Alice continues on her journey to find survivors and lead them to safety. Her deadly battle with the Umbrella Corporation reaches new heights, but Alice gets some unexpected help from an old friend. A new lead that promises a safe haven from the Undead takes them to Los Angeles, but when they arrive the city is overrun by thousands of Undead — and Alice and her comrades are about to step into a deadly trap. “Resident Evil: Afterlife” which was photographed in 3D, has been digitally re-mastered into the image and sound quality of The IMAX Experience

The story of five women in a Lebanese beauty salon may sound strange to some, but ‘Caramel’, the debut feature film from Nadine Labaki, has been a resounding success. It had its Irish debut at this year’s Dublin film festival and was personally selected by festival director Grainne Humphreys as a highlight. Now the film is set for a general release with Labaki, both directing and also staring as Layale, one of the salon’s employees, who is struggling in a relationship with a married man.  Other characters include colleagues Nisrine, who opts for minor surgery to convince her husband-to-be that she’s still a virgin, and Rima, who is experiencing lesbian feelings.  Here, Labaki talks to about a film as sweet as its title suggests.


Q: How has Caramel gone down in your home city of Beirut since it was released?
A: Great. Especially with the situation now. People feel very connected to this film, and very connected to what’s happening with this film. It’s not about any political situation and there’s humour in it, so it’s given them a little bit of hope.  The fact it’s going all over the world, it’s representing Lebanon everywhere. People have a special connection with the film, they’re supporting it, because they feel like it’s a more positive image of Lebanon.


Q: You dedicate the film to ‘My Beirut’. Did you always have that in the script?
A: I didn’t always have that in the script, but I thought about that when I started editing, and the war broke out again in Lebanon. I had just finished shooting, and three days after the war broke out. I left home, and there was a huge feeling of guilt…I felt like I was letting my country down, because I was making a film that had nothing to do with the war.  I had the feeling that I was escaping.


Q: Do you think westerners will be  surprised by what you show?
A: They are surprised!  Absolutely. That’s the question that they say to me: ‘We didn’t know that you were like that.’  They are surprised that they learnt something new.  They saw something that was unexpected. The first thing that comes to their mind, normally, is a very grey image, sad people, and this was the first time they saw colourful people with a very strong will to survive. There’s a warmth and affection between them.  And people are surprised that we’re so modern – ‘Oh, we didn’t know you dressed like that and that these women are so beautiful!’ It’s a nice surprise, and it’s good that they’re interested in the Lebanon. Now, many women tell me, ‘Now we want to know more about this country.  We want to go there and discover it.’


Q: Do you think westerners tend to see ‘the Middle East’ as just one country?
A: Yeah. I wanted to combat this stereotype.  I’m not saying that Lebanon is not a place where there’s war.  But that’s not the whole picture. We don’t always live in a war situation. We’re not just scared of getting killed with a bomb. We have other daily things to deal with, and it’s important that people are aware of that.


Q: Have you worked in a beauty salon, ever?
A: Never! I’m just someone who observes a lot.  It’s a place that has always fascinated me. A lot of secrets are said behind these closed curtains and closed doors, and a woman comes here with a lot of hope, thinking she’s going to come out of it feeling more beautiful.  It’s a place where there’s a lot of hope. Also, there’s a great sense of bonding between the woman and the person making her become more beautiful.  She attaches so much importance to that person who is doing her make-up or hair, and she doesn’t have to be fake.  This woman sees you in your nudity and your flaws and your reality – you don’t have to fake anything anymore and you can be yourself very naturally.  So you start confiding, telling your secrets and talking about your life, and she becomes like an advisor and a Goddess to you, as she’s the one making you more beautiful.


Q: Can you explain about the ‘Caramel’ of the title, which we see being used as a beauty aid…
A: It’s real caramel. It’s sugar with lemon and water, which you boil together, and it becomes this very tasty paste. And you can’t help but eat it, because it’s sugary and nice. It’s used everywhere in the Middle East. It’s very simple to do, very simple to prepare, and that’s what I did when I started waxing. I used to prepare my own paste. For me, it’s really fascinating. It’s this idea of sugar that burns and becomes bitter and hurts you. This idea of sweet and bitter, this contradiction…


Q: Had you always planned to play the lead?
A: No, I didn’t know I was going to be her.  I had this idea that I might do it, but it came later on when I started doing the casting for other actors. I noticed when I was with them, in the scene, it brought out the best in them, because I would direct them from inside.  It created a very safe environment between us.  They were not acting anymore.  They were just playing a game. So this gave me a lot of confidence to do it. And because they were non-actors, and this was the first time they were acting, it allowed them to be more comfortable.


Q: Are there no professional actors in the film at all?
A: No, except the policeman, who’s a well-known actor in Lebanon. He’s a comedian on TV. But other than that, the others, this is the first time they’ve acted.

Q: Did any of them struggle with acting?
A: It was not easy for all the actors, but I had a different way of working with each and every one of them.  You had to find the keys to each and every one, just to make them feel more comfortable, and give you the best they had.  So it was tricky, but we had magical moments that would make you forget everything else.


Q: Have you acted before?
A: I’ve had a bit of experience, as I’m a director and I’ve always directed people – so I know about films and about the rhythms. I’ve acted in one film before – Philippe Aractingi’s Bosta, another Lebanese film. That was my only real experience of acting.  I played a dancer in a dance troupe – a traditional type of Lebanese dancing.


Q: How did you find directing yourself?
A: It’s tough. I just jumped into the adventure. I didn’t think about it. It was not easy, but for me it was the only way to get the best out of the actors.


Q: Is your character’s journey the main story of the film?
A: It wasn’t meant to be this way! Some people tell me that. But maybe it’s the fact that she’s the owner of this place, and she’s the one that’s always helping others in their situations, and trying to come up with the best solutions…it’s all revolving around her. But it wasn’t meant to be the lead character.


Q: How do you see her journey through the film?
A: As she goes through the film, her struggle is related to her taking the right decision. She’s someone who wants to live this relationship and really wants to be with that man. But at the same time, she’s someone who still lives with her parents, is very much attached to her religion – she has a cross that she’s always wearing – so she’s someone that always wants to make the right decision. She doesn’t want to hurt anyone, she doesn’t want to hurt her parents or her religion, so there’s a lot of contradiction between what she wants to be and what she allows herself to be. It’s more about this struggle that I wanted to talk about.


Q: Did you draw from real friends’ relationships?
A: Of course. I drew from their experience, from their suffering…of course, when you’re on the side of the mistress, you always think that the wife is the monster. And when you’re on the side of the wife, you always think that the mistress is the monster. The true thing is, no one is a monster and they’re both humans. It’s the man that’s the monster! So I wanted to talk about that…in the film, you just see the humanity of everyone.


Q: How difficult was it to raise the money for the film?
A: It wasn’t too hard! It happened smoothly. Some of the money came from the Arab countries in the Middle East – a Lebanese distributor and Lebanese TV. It was not that easy, but it wasn’t difficult. I originally had a name for myself doing music videos, and people started to know me through that. In Lebanon, we have this tradition of putting your signature on the screen – so people knew me. I did some for Nancy Ajram – and people started waiting for my music videos. And so this helped me a lot.


Q: Has Caramel brought you to the attention of Hollywood?
A: Yeah – I’ve had offers from agents in America. 


Q: How would you feel if the film was remade?
A: I wouldn’t really like it! It wouldn’t look as real or true. I don’t know what my reaction would be. It’s not easy to see something that you’ve done seen by another eye. It’s not easy. I’m quite protective! I don’t think it will happen.


‘Caramel’ is in Irish cinemas Friday, May 16th.