Female Director on the Rise: Nadine Labaki

3 min read

“Capernaum” received a 15-minute standing ovation at its premiere at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. It was selected to compete for the Palm d’Or and it won the Jury Prize. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

It well deserves all the accolades and critical raves it has received. Shot in a gritty documentary style, the lead performance by the 12-year-old Zain Al Rafeea is absolutely wrenching. Many languages are spoken in this film, but his eyes tell the story more effectively than any scripted dialogue.

Director Nadine Labaki said her film speaks to the global situation:

“it takes place in Lebanon because this is what I know, this where I live. This is where I tell my story because this is something that I know very well. But this is not only happening in Lebanon, this is happening almost in every big city of the world. This “Capernaum” that we are talking about, Capernaum means chaos, it also means also chaos and miracles at the same time, and so this is the story of any big city of the world right now, unfortunately.”

No politics are explicitly outlined in this movie yet, as a human story, it sets straight the truth about the waves of human migration crashing borders around the globe.

The old ways that assured survival are now a misery trap.  Having many children was once the only hope for family provision and parents’ security in old age. Now it only increases desperate poverty. Climate change and superpower proxy wars and the organized crime filling the void of failed governments are what drive the caravans of refugees. That’s the true human story that this film so well reveals without ever addressing anything “politically.”

These are the sort of stories, revealed epiphanies from tortured human hearts and tormented lives, that may well be only fully realizable by female directors. These are the human quandaries that cannot be resolved by raging Mad Maxes or radioactive spider bites. It’s important to show that in the real world the real heroes are those whose only superpowers are compassion, empathy and a sense that injustice must not be allowed to prevail.

The final scene in the movie is a tight close-up of Zain’s somber face. We hear a photographer asking him to smile. He cannot. He has not smiled once during the entire movie. The man with the camera then says, “Hey, this is for your visa out, not your death certificate.” Finally a broad smile erupts on Zain’s face. For the first time he looks like a boy and not a wizened old man. For too many people only surviving on this earth, just winning a chance at living free of fear is their only reason to smile.

Meet the director in this short video…

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