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Up for an Oscar, Labaki Makes Lebanon Proud with Film "Capernaum"

posted on: Jan 16, 2019

Director Nadine Labaki and Capernaum star, Zain Al Rafeea, at the 71st Cannes Film Festival last year. Photo: Reuters

By: Amy Hensler/Arab America Contributing Writer 

Nadine Labaki was shortlisted for an Oscar for her critically acclaimed film Capernaum. This brilliantly directed Lebanese drama focuses on the life of a young Syrian refugee, Zain (played by Zain Al Rafeea), who takes his parents to court for neglect. Zain’s story is about a child attempting to survive in Lebanon’s slums and is revolutionary because Labaki cast mostly non-professional actors. This coming of age tale shows the life of a child looking for his identity in the midst of the chaotic world happening around him. Labaki directed and wrote the film which has already received international attention, most recently for its nomination in the Golden Globes.

Nadine’s hope for the film was to represent invisible communities by using real people instead of actors. A film she defines as “homemade”, attempts to be a film that anyone can relate to. “[the actors are] representing these invisible communities. The film is trying to convey their voice, to be a vehicle for their voice so that it resonates louder and louder.” Labaki is grateful for any nomination she receives because they “allow the problem to be more out there and helps shed the light on this issue, specifically on children’s rights. I hope that issue will have an even larger exposure now.”

Capernaum was Lebanon’s submission for the Golden Globes’ category, Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language. The film was up against four other films: Girl by Belgium director Lukas Dhont, Never Look Away by German director Florian Henckel von Sonnersmarck, Shoplifters by Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda, and the winner of the category, Roma by Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron. Although Capernaum did not win the category, receiving this nomination was still a great honor that Labaki should be proud of.

This film has won this year’s Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize and was also nominated for the Best Foreign language Film at the 2019 Critics’ Choice Awards. Labaki’s film keeps getting nominated for prestigious awards, and this has helped her in ensuring a place on the Oscar’s shortlist. Lebanon has submitted 15 films to The Academy and Nadine’s film is one of two that has been considered to be nominated. The only other Lebanese film that has been considered is Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult, which did not receive the nomination. Capernaum is on its way to being the first Lebanese film to be featured in the Oscars.

Labaki’s film was chosen from a field of 87 submissions, thus showing how prestigious this honor truly is. Capernaum is competing with eight other films for the nomination. The competition includes Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, Hirokazu Koreeda’s Shoplifters, Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s Birds of Passage, Gustav Möller’s The Guilty, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Never Look Away, and Sergey Dvortsevoy’s Ayka.

Labaki was ecstatic when she heard about the nomination, stating on Instagram that, “after years of research, tears and sweat, long production hours and sleepless nights, our film has been recognized on this year’s Foreign Language #Oscar shortlist among 8 other films from a selection that exceeded 80 submissions from all around the world. We couldn’t be prouder. Thank you @TheAcademy for this immense honor.” She stated that this nomination is an “incredible moment in our film’s journey and a major milestone for Lebanese and Arab cinema.”

The finalists for the category will be announced on January 22nd, narrowing the list down to five films. If Labaki’s film is selected, viewers can watch the results on Sunday, February 24th on ABC at 8 pm Eastern/5 pm Pacific. The film is a great representation of Arab cinema that deserves the nomination for its honest and humanitarian themes.