Suf­fer Lit­tle Chil­dren

CAPER­NAUM Na­dine Labaki on how re­al­ity and fic­tion in­ter­twined dur­ing her film’s pro­duc­tion…

Total Film - - Dialogue - NS

Le­banese di­rec­tor Na­dine Labaki ar­rives for our in­ter­view with a fetch­ing beaded bag bear­ing the leg­end “Be The Change”. It’s an up­lift­ing and em­pow­er­ing sen­ti­ment that ex­tends to her lat­est film: a mov­ing por­trait of a young boy grow­ing up poor in Beirut, which she hopes will make au­di­ences “change their per­spec­tive” about a marginalised sec­tor of so­ci­ety that’s all too of­ten ig­nored.

Mak­ing Caper­naum has cer­tainly been a life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the di­rec­tor of Caramel and Where Do We Go Now?, who spent six months craft­ing the film with com­poser hus­band Khaled Mouza­nar and a cast of un­known ac­tors they lit­er­ally lifted off Beirut’s streets. “The chal­lenge was to cap­ture the re­al­ity and you can­not do it just like that,” she says with re­gards to the ex­tended shoot­ing sched­ule. “You have to be at the ser­vice of your ac­tors, where usu­ally it’s the other way around.”

Tak­ing its ti­tle from a town cursed by Je­sus whose name has since be­come a syn­onym for chaos, Caper­naum tells of a 12-year-old boy called Zain (puck­ish Syr­ian mi­grant Zain Al Rafeea), who takes his par­ents to court… for hav­ing

him in the first place. It’s a fan­ci­ful con­cept, yet one that re­flects the feel­ings of many of the chil­dren whom Labaki spoke to as part of her re­search.

“I would ask them, ‘Are you happy to be alive?’ and they would say ‘No’,” she re­mem­bers. “‘Why was I born if there’s no­body to love me? Why give me life if I am to be raped and treated like trash?’ The fact Zain sues his par­ents is a sym­bolic ges­ture in the name of all of those chil­dren.”

The fic­tional Zain’s life is def­i­nitely no pic­nic. Run­ning away af­ter his shock­ingly young sis­ter is forced into mar­riage, he be­friends an Ethiopian clean­ing woman (Yor­danos Shiferaw) with a baby called Yonas (Boluwat­ife Trea­sure Bankole) who Zain is obliged to take care of when she is ar­rested.

Life mir­rored art dur­ing pro­duc­tion when Shiferaw was her­self de­tained, a fate that also be­fell Bankole’s real-life mum and dad. “When we were shoot­ing the scenes where Yonas is alone, she ac­tu­ally was with­out her mother,” says Labaki. “The film kept re­mind­ing us we were work­ing with real peo­ple in real sit­u­a­tions hav­ing real strug­gles.”

With more than 500 hours of rushes by the end, the po­ten­tial is there for a longer cut or even a TV se­ries. A greater pri­or­ity for Labaki, how­ever, is en­sur­ing her ac­tors are safely set­tled with le­git­i­mate doc­u­men­ta­tion. “They are part of my life now so we have to find so­lu­tions,” she ex­plains. “For once, I didn’t want the happy end­ing to be con­fined to the screen…”

ETA | TBC FE­BRU­ARY / CApER­nAUm opEns nExT monTh.

lost yoUth Zain Al Rafeea stars as 12-year-old Zain, who goes on the run in Beirut.

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