Capernaum: A Loss at the Oscars, a win for Lebanon

Capernaum might have lost at the Oscars, but it was a win and a proud moment for Lebanon to see Labaki as the first female Arab director on the red carpet.
by Chiri Choukeir

25 February 2019 | 12:03

Source: by Annahar

  • by Chiri Choukeir
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 25 February 2019 | 12:03

This photo shows Nadine Labaki and her husband Khaled Mouzanar with the Capernaum cast, in Hollywood, California, on Feb. 24, 2019. (AFP Photo)

BEIRUT: Even after the Cannes Prize de Jury, a visit with Oprah herself, and numerous other plaudits, in the end, Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum could not edge out Academy favorite Roma.

Labaki took the setback head held high, however.

After all, she had not only shed light on childhood poverty, but was the first Arab woman filmmaker to make it this far.

After capturing the hearts and attention of viewers worldwide, Capernaum was nominated at the Oscars for Best Foreign Language film, making director Nadine Labaki the first female Arab director to ever be nominated for an Oscar.

Although Capernaum lost to Mexican documentary style movie Roma, the Lebanese film received a global appraisal, in addition to praise and admiration from major personnel such as Oprah that said that she loved the movie in a group picture with Labaki on Instagram.

The Lebanese drama film takes place inside a law-court, where Zain, a 12-year-old Lebanese boy is brought before the judge. The film retraces the amazing journey Zain takes in search of his identity and his rebellion against the life that has been imposed on him.

All eyes were on Zain during the film, who is played by Syrian refugee Zain Al Rafeea. He was 12 years old during the production of Capernaum and was illiterate with no training on being an actor. Al Rafeea was nominated for his role for the Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Performance by an Actor and won Best Actor at the 2018 International Antalya Film Festival.

As for production, the shooting lasted six months and resulted in a cut 12 hours long and it was subject to edits for over two years. Producer and husband Khaled Mouzanar said he had to take out a mortgage on his house to raise the production budget for Capernaum.

However, the mortgage was worth it, as Capernaum has 88% approval rating based on reviews by 116 critics on Rotten Tomatoes and has received 4.5/5 stars on Allocine based on more than 1405 reviews.

With 30 nominations and 24 wins, including a win at the Cannes Film Festival and a nomination for the Golden Globes, Capernaum might have not won the Oscars but have surely proved that Lebanese production is a force.

Labaki has received much praise for her previous films such as Caramel, Where Do We Go Now, and Stray Bullet, but it was Capernaum that put Labaki’s name on the map, and Lebanese audience had nothing but joy and pride to share. 

"I think it's so realistic; it documents the actual lives of refugees and people with no papers. It's a subject that's not much spoken about," Sonia Abdullah, housewife.

Further, Manal Mohsem, a yoga instructor also praised the movie: "It is so deep, so profoundly descriptive, that I lost myself while watching it. I could feel the sorrow and sadness in the characters' lives."

Film graduate, Aya Karam also shared her opinion: “It’s an artistic masterpiece. From script to concept, to production, Nadine Labaki has always been a genius but this film really raised the bar for Lebanese production.”

Labaki also received praise from Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri over Twitter. “Congratulations to the director Nadine Labaki and all the crew of ‘Capernaum’ who won the Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival,” he tweeted. “All of Lebanon is proud of your success Nadine.”

Capernaum might have lost at the Oscars, but it was a win and a proud moment for Lebanon to see Labaki as the first female Arab director on the red carpet.

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Maysaa Ajjan contributed to this article.


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