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Nadine Labaki: “I Expect a Movie to Move Me, to Shake Me”

Photo: Fares Sokhon


This year, Lebanese director and actor Nadine Labaki was a member of the prestigious jury of the 19th Edition of Marrakech International Film Festival, presided over by the Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino. Below, excerpts from a conversation about the magic of cinema with one of the most talented and soulful filmmakers of her time.

As a creator, film maker, screenwriter, has the way you watch films changed over time? Do you watch a movie as a professional or as a viewer?

As just a simple viewer, I think. I don’t go into the film with preconceived ideas. With hopes or something else. For sure, I expect a lot from these two hours that I am about to spend in this beautiful theater, in the dark, with other people, this collective ritual that I love so much. I expect a movie to move me, to shake me. I really hope to come out of it changed: with a new subject, empathizing with the characters, learning new things, learning about other people’s struggles. I expect a lot from these two hours. Because I think we live in a time where every minute is precious. You need to be a multitasker and these two hours are precious. I am not watching a movie as a filmmaker, I watch a movie as a human being who wants to learn things as when you go to a museum, when you listen to music.

The Marrakech Film Festival showcases first and second features, the first steps of a director. As a director yourself, have you always known what you wanted to do in cinema ?

I think that is something that came gradually to me. You don’t really understand the power of images from the beginning. The power that the film can have and the impact that it can have. At the beginning, it’s more of an experiment, especially when you come from a place where there is no cinema, no industry. I have learnt with other directors, going to sets. I am a bit of an autodidact in a way, I learnt everything as I was going. At the beginning, you just want to make a good film. And then you realize the impact on other people and realize the responsibility grows. It’s a very powerful tool that you have in your hands so you need to be careful. Especially when you come from the part of the world that I come from. Things are complicated. From an advertising or a music video, a short , I understand how the impact can be very powerful. I truly believe that cinema can be the most important tool for change. That’s why it takes so much time.

Should a movie be political?

Any act that you do, when you express a certain frustration, need, position, of how the world is functioning is political. Anything you do can become political. For me, that’s what politics should be. It’s not about a bunch of people taking wrong decisions, it’s about understanding the needs of people, how to make things work. Any act, any piece of that that is tackling a political issue becomes political. It’s not intended. An activist, or “cinema engagé”(social justice filmmaking), you are engaged in people’s life. You want to ask questions, find answers. Make this world a better place!

You always act when you direct, do you always need to be playing in your movies?

For me, it’s something that comes naturally. I feel close to a character and I do it. In Capharnaum, behind the scenes, I was really acting as a lawyer, doing research before the film, spending a lot of time in court to find out how they handle kid’s cases, how the system works, where the failures are. I was observing, asking questions, meeting with lawyers and judges to discuss all the themes I was obsessed with. I did it quite naturally but then I regretted it. A little bit later. Maybe a real lawyer should have played this part. There was a lot of improvization, I was pushing it but then I can’t help saying to myself that a real lawyer would have been better. All the others were non actors, lawyers in real life. But I was obsessed with the subject.

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