Nadine Labaki on “Caramel”

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By Dan Persons

IFC News

[Photos: Nadine Labaki in “Caramel,” Roadside Attractions, 2007]

When the world looks at Beirut, what’s visible most often is a war zone. When Lebanese native Nadine Labaki looks at the city, she sees women dealing with a universal set of pleasures and difficulties, leavened with the unique religious and social complexities of her country. Set in a beauty parlor where the fractured front sign speaks volumes about the daily challenges faced by its customers, the gentle comedy/drama “Caramel” (the title refers to the use of melted sugar as a depilatory) focuses on four women: owner Layale (Labaki), who’s carrying on an affair with a married man; Rima (Joanna Moukarzel), an employee nursing an infatuation with a beautiful client; Nisrine (Yasmine Al Masri), a Muslim bride-to-be fearing the ramifications of revealing that she’s no longer a virgin; and Rose (Siham Haddad), a seamstress who has put her life on hold to care after her senile older sister (Aziza Semaan).

So this is your first feature film, with you in the lead and a non-professional cast.

All except the policeman.

Why take that on?

Because there’s so much beauty in ordinary people, in ordinary life. It took me, like, a year, searching for these people — I saw hundreds and hundreds of them. They were the people you see everywhere — on the streets, in our families, friends, people with no experience.

Any thought of, “Maybe I’m crazy doing this?

Yes, all the time, but at the same time, I had a gut feeling that this is the way to do it. I wanted the film to be as realistic as possible. I wanted to give the audience the impression that they are observing other people’s lives, and not watching a fiction where you have an actor being someone for that film and then becoming somebody else for another film. I wanted to audience to feel the closeness, and so it is told by people who look like [my actors]. It’s also about getting out of this vicious circle where a film does not get funding or does not work unless it has a name in it. I think we should get out of this vicious circle and start thinking differently about moviemaking.

In the press notes, you mention Lebanese girls being instilled with the concept of aayib, literally, “that’s shameful.” Did you have to face that attitude as a woman director working in Lebanon?

There are a lot of contradictions. As a director, I am someone working in a field that’s not easy for a woman, I’m traveling a lot. On the other hand, I am someone who lived with my [family] until I got married. I grew up with this word [aayib] all the time: “You shouldn’t do that…” But you grow up, and you can be free and be applying this freedom, and still you have a lot of self-censorship and self-control because you don’t want to hurt the people around you, your family, your education, your religion. You are confused: Are you this free woman who’s doing what she wants, or are you a more conservative woman? You are searching for your identity.

I have to admit, watching this film, I realized I know squat about Lebanon. Yet I got the sense, for all the turmoil, that there’s an aspect about Beirut that matches up with other cities, in that there’s a willingness to embrace a more open social structure.

Of course, it’s much more open. But we still have lots of issues to deal with. The whole of Lebanon is like a huge village: Everybody knows everybody, and the problems come from the fact that we live in a community, we don’t live on our own. We live in a family, in a society, in a neighborhood, in a community where everybody knows everybody, whether you’re in the village or the city. And it’s this proximity with other people that creates this pressure. Even though you’re in the city, it’s not like it is here.

You live in a community, you don’t live on your own. It’s very hard to see someone eating alone in a restaurant. It’s very rare. And if you see someone eating alone in a restaurant, you think he has a problem. At the same time, this proximity has its advantages and its disadvantages. It creates a lot of pressure.

Is this a universal story or more specific to your country?

When I was writing the script, I thought it was going to be specific. Now, I’m discovering what’s happening with this film. Everywhere we go, I make it a point of staying and watching the screening, because I like to see how people react in different places. It’s surprising to see how people react the same way: They laugh at the same places with the same intensity at the same sentences. So now, I’m discovering it’s not specific, it’s more universal. I’ve discovered that human nature, human reactions, human emotions are the same everywhere in the world.

“Caramel” opens in limited release February 1st.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.


IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines


The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.


Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.


A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.


Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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