Cannes Film Fest 2018: Interview with Nadine Labaki, One of Three Women in Competition

Lebanese actress-turned-director Nadine Labaki made her first appearance in the 2007 Cannes Film Fest at the Directors’ Fortnight with her feature debut, Caramel. Her follow-up, Where Do We Go Now? premiered in Un Certain Regard at the 2011 Cannes Film Fest.

Director Nadine Labaki 

Cannes likes to promote its directors from the sidebars. This year Labaki presents her third feature, Capernaum, in the Official Competition.

Set in a fictitious Middle Eastern village (like Where Do We Go Now?), Capernaum centers on the region’s numerous neglected children “excluded from society.” They are youths who fall through the cracks in the system, left to fend for themselves. The protagonist is a boy (Zain Alrafeea), only 12, who cannot take it anymore and decides to sue his parents for bringing him into a world of misery.

Shooting and Editing

Nadine Labaki: We shot for more than six months, we have more than 500 hours of rushes and we have been editing for the past year and a half.

Years to Make Film 

NL: I needed to spend time with these kids, because none of them is a professional actor. I needed the time for them to really understand what they’re doing, know why they’re doing what they’re doing and to be able to capture their reality. Before the shoot, I did more than three years of research. I was trying to understand how the system fails these kids. It was important for me to base this on real stories, real events and real experiences.

Motivation for Story?

NL: These kids are facing extreme neglect. I see them all around every day, and everybody just feels completely powerless. And that’s maybe why we turn away. I wanted to be in the head of these kids and understand what happens when you turn away and the kid goes around the corner and disappears from your vision. Who are their parents? What are they thinking?


NL: From the interviews I had with the kids, almost 99 percent of them said they didn’t want to be here. I asked them, “Are you happy to have been born?” And they said, “You know, I’m not happy, I didn’t ask for this, I didn’t ask to be here.” Going from one kid to another, slowly this came to life. I realized the film was going to be about a kid who asks, “Why did you give me life if you can’t take care of me, if you’re not going to give me love? Why did you bring me into this world?”

Casting Children? 

NL: The kids in the film are almost in the same situation. The 12-year-old lead, Zain, is at least lucky to have loving parents. He’s a Syrian refugee who’s been living in Beirut for five or six years, but when we started, he wasn’t going to school and faced hardships. He’s only now just learned to read and write his name. But there are thousands of kids like Zain.

No Role for Her?

NL: I actually wrote a role for myself, but it’s a very, very small role. I’m almost like an extra. I just felt I was going to be a fake standing next to all these people who are real and who are talking about their own life experiences. In comparison to their stories, I don’t stand a chance.

Resisting Hollywood?

NL: Not intentionally. It’s always very tempting, and I’ve read a lot of scripts. But for me, filmmaking is a way of expressing myself. Until now, I’ve not really found a script that really expresses my own obsessions and what I want to talk about. I’ve been tempted, but I always want to write my own script. But I’m not completely opposed to it!