The story of a multi-generational pack of women who mingle at a beauty shop in Beirut, Lebanon, Caramel is a charming tale of friendship and love. Filmed just before the recent conflicts in the region, Caramel is notably the first Lebanese movie not to mention war.

Instead it shifts its gaze to the modern internal conflicts battling in the hearts of these women, who precariously balance their freedoms and Western influences with residual cultural mores and prized Middle-Eastern identities. Nadine Labaki’s first feature film is replete with thoroughly likable characters and delightful subtleties.

The dilapidated salon serves as a shelter for the ladies, who release themselves from societal pressures within its doors. Some of the women’s struggles, ranging from being a mistress to caretaker guilt to a quest to stay young in a culture obsessed with image, are quite controversial, yet Caramel tells their tales with integrity.

What’s more, each character is genuine due to Labaki’s technique of plucking her actresses from every day people, not from casting sessions.

Grade: B+

Caramel releases in select theaters Feb. 1.