Interview

Nadine Labaki: filmmaker, body and soul

Portrait of an engaged director.
September 14, 2018

Since Caramel, she carries a special place in the Lebanese cinema industry.Capharnaüm, her latest movie, a depiction of a Syrian refugee child, earned the jury prize at the last Cannes festival. Portrait of an engaged director.

We feel her animated by the great will of those whom history has not spared. Her (undeniable) beauty comes after. Stunning in her spectacular purple drape gown, custom made for her Parisian promotion tour, you would almost forget where the 44 years old director, Nadine Labaki, comes from.

She comes from Lebanon, a country perpetually on the edge of chaos, where her grandfather owned a movie theater. From this Lebanon, where war forced this Christian born in the village of Baabdat, forty minutes from Beirut, to live a childhood in shelters. From this Lebanon, where she witnessed the bodies of her dead cousins brought back in a car trunk. Each of her films makes, profoundly and absurdly, the pitiless portrait of this small country in the Middle East, torn between mourning and thirst for life.

At 32, the young woman directs Caramel, the story of five Lebanese women of different religions who discuss cosmetic surgery, love and sexuality in a beauty salon. The American magazine Variety will soon classify her in its list of top ten filmmakers to follow. At 37, she raises the tone with “And now where do we go ?”, the story of ploys made by Christian and Muslim women in order to prevent their men from taking up arms again. Mix of sung pieces and Italian comedy, the film foreshadows the Arab Spring. At the last Cannes Film Festival, she upsets the audience withCapharnaüm, a neo-realist melodrama portraying a young Syrian refugee removed from his world. "Lebanese cinema is still very shy and a little baby," says Nadine Labaki. We take our first steps, we stumble, we then get up back to the maturity that we miss. "

Filmed between shantytowns and asphalt in the Lebanese capital, this movie, awarded by a jury prize chaired by Cate Blanchett, was born from an image. One night in 2014, Nadine Labaki returns from a rather fun party. At a red light, the director receives a cold shower. In her field of vision, a mother and her one-year-old son are huddled together on a sidewalk of a half-meter. The little one only wants to fall asleep. But the roar of the cars launched at full speed wake him up. "At the age when others discover existence, his living space was down to half a meter, explains the director. Helpless, I went back home. I begged God to give me the strength to transform my anger. I put myself - something I never do - to draw the face of a kid who, as in The Scream of Edvard Munch, screams in front of adults, then I wrote a text.Capharnaüm, a project bigger than me, had just snatched me up. "

BY MARGAUX DESTRAY / PHOTOS SAMUEL KIRSZENBAUM / MADAME FIGARO

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