Nadine Labaki makes history at the Cannes Film Festival!

Last night, Lebanese director, Nadine Labaki, was awarded the Jury Prize of the Cannes Film Festival for her latest film Capharnaum. The film’s recognition is a memorable moment in Lebanon’s film history – even more so that it was competing with 20 other works for the prestigious Palme D’Or – since the last time a Lebanese film was present at the festival was back in 1991, when Maroun Bagdadi won the Jury’s Prize for his film Out Of Life.

Capharnaum movie poster.
Capharnaum movie poster.

After accepting the 3rd Place Jury Prize, Labaki celebrated by performing a “zalghouta” out of sheer happiness. She was joined by her husband, producer Khaled Mouzannar, as well as the young actor Zain Al-Rafeea, who acted in the film.

Capharnaum follows the story of 12-year old Zain, who lives in a slum in Lebanon, and proceeds to suing his parents for giving him life without ensuring the minimum funds to cover his basic necessities. Upon its first screening earlier in the week, the drama received a 15-minute standing ovation.

Labaki is the first director from the Middle East to win a Cannes competition in 12 years, she is the second female director to win the prize, following Jane Champion’s “The Piano”. However, she is the first female Arab director to win a major prize. By looking at her rich filmography, we notice that her films tend to focus on sensitive issues affecting the daily lives of Lebanese citizens. For example, her first film “Caramel” (2007) revolved around the lives of women connected via a beauty parlor in Beirut. The film received high praise and placed Labaki as one of Lebanon’s most celebrated film directors. Another of her films, “Where Do We Go Now?”, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011 and narrated the story of a group of women who try to safeguard the social fabric of their interfaith village through times of religious and social tensions.

In her acceptance speech, Labaki said that she could not help but think of a little refugee called Cedra, who played Zain’s sister in the movie: “Today, she is probably spending the day standing under the sun, her face pressed against car windows, trying to protect herself as she can from the numerous insults she receives”. She continued by saying “I’m telling you this because for all of us present here, we can change something. I deeply believe in the power of cinema. It is not just a form of distractions or a way for others to dream, but it also makes people think, it helps show the invisible, helps say what can’t be said.

Present (from left to right) Khaled Mouzannar, Zain Al-Rafeea, and Nadine Labaki.
Present (from left to right) Khaled Mouzannar, Zain Al-Rafeea, and Nadine Labaki.

We can’t keep blindly turning our backs towards the suffering of those children who are trying to keep going like those in Capharnaum, which became today’s reality. I don’t know what the right solution is. I myself don’t have it. However, I invite you to think, because a loveless childhood is the fruit of all the bad in the world”.

Labaki thanked the jury, and dedicated her prize to her country, but also her cast members, impoverished refugee children she met on the streets of Beirut. The 44-year old added that she was “almost ashamed to be wearing such beautiful dresses” to promote her film with such a powerful and sensitive issue. Although the Lebanese director has given women a strong voice in her past films, she claims to have more immediate concerns right now when it comes to Lebanon’s situation, now a temporary home to millions of refugees from Syria, Palestine, and Iraq.

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