Interviewing Nadine Labaki one gets the sense that what she's telling you is so intimate and from her heart that maybe it will be sacrilegious to publish it. The Lebanese film industry has in Labaki their most devoted, candid, beautiful ambassador who represents to the world at large both the resilience and courage of her countrymen and women as well as the undeniable allure of her birth nation.
Labaki needs no introduction. As a filmmaker she has been Oscar-nominated, in 2019 for her socially conscious Capernaum, her third feature after Caramel (2007) and Where Do We Go Now? (2011). She is also coveted as an actress, having starred in a few Lebanese must-watch films as well as the upcoming remake of the Italian drama Perfect Strangers, co-produced by Film Clinic, Empire and Front Row Filmed Entertainment.
For our latest interview via Zoom, she sports a new haircut, with a cute short fringe (bangs) and clean skin, which makes her look like she is ready to step into the role of Holly Golightly for a Lebanese remake of Breakfast at Tiffany. When I tell her, she exclaims "I'd love that! I think that would be wonderful." She cut her hair, she explains, for her latest role in Mounia Akl's upcoming Costa Brava Lebanon. In her own directing future is a Netflix remake of French film Les Invisibles, titled The Invisibles which she summarises as "our whole existence just depends on a piece of paper, and if we don't have this piece of paper, you know, it's as if we cease to exist -- we become non-existent and therefore, completely invisible from the system."
After the explosion in Beirut on the 4th of August, 2020, Labaki took to the streets to help out those who had been left homeless and hopeless by the blast -- "the biggest non-nuclear explosion, and the third in magnitude after Nagasaki," she explains. She also calls what happened "a crime against humanity" which the Western media covered as just another bomb blast in the Middle East. Her Instagram account displays the hashtag #keeptalkingaboutBeirut and along with her husband, composer Khaled Mouzanar they have contributed in making sure Beirut remains in the minds and hearts of people around the world.
"You know, people are sometimes dealing with it as if it was an accident," Labaki says, continuing "when it's not -- this is years and years of negligence on the part of our incompetent and Machiavellian ruling class." In the early Fall of 2020 the filmmaker and actress took to the streets with her camera, to document the aftermath. "I needed to do something, and at least, I needed to capture it and keep it there, I don't know, maybe as proof." Labaki started, in fact, right at the time when "the Chilean team of rescuers that came to Lebanon to help, they detected a pulse under the rubble," she admits. "It's such a delicate moment and as an artist I think we have a huge responsibility to be part of the change in the right way." As a terrifying aside, Labaki doesn't even want to dare to imagine what it would have been like had she and her family been home at the time of the blast -- as the explosion destroyed the home she shares with her husband and two children, as well as their office. "My parents' apartment, my sister's apartment, everybody we know living in Beirut was hit in one way or the other," she confirms.
Before jumping into our quick fire round, I ask Labaki if she's ever afraid of calling out the bad guys. She quickly replies, "no, I'm not afraid, you are either on the side of justice or you're not and to be on the wrong side of that would be very unfair, a lack of integrity -- we have to call out and say the way things are is just not working anymore."
"Some people see things the way they are and ask why, other people see things the way they might be and ask why not."
And now here is a rapid question round with the incomparable Nadine Labaki.
What is your favourite virtue?
What is the quality that you prefer in a man?
Not being self conscious, being completely, you know, true to himself -- what you see is what you get.
Your favourite quality in another woman?
What do you appreciate in your dearest friends?
Do you have a favourite motto?
Yes -- some people see things the way they are and ask why, other people see things the way they might be and ask why not.
Do you have a favourite curse word?
S**t, I think.
If you could live anywhere in world, where would you live?
Where I'm living right now, in the mountains near Beirut.
Who is your favourite author?
I like Nikos Kazantzakis, a lot.
Do you remember the first film you ever watched?
I don't have a memory of my first time going to the movies, which is very, very strange. I don't know when my first time going to the movies was. But, of course, there are films that I watched when I was very little, you know, on TV or, or by you know renting VHS tapes, like Snow White and Bambi, I remember Bambi!
Is there a character that you would most like to play?
Maybe something very very far from my own personality, completely crazy, free, on the edge -- everything that I've wanted to do and explore in my own life but I couldn't because of social pressure.
What is the quality you admire most in a leader?
The ability to listen and see, really listen and see.
And what do you hate in leaders?
Everything that has to do with diplomacy and this sort of gate, not gate maybe but obstacle or filter. They're supposed to be for the people, knowing the people I mean and this sort of inaccessibility is something I really don't appreciate.
What is your favourite possession?
What do you think was the greatest invention?
Definitely not the internet. Can that be my answer?
How do you feel right now?
Is there something that you think about when things aren't going so well?
I think about this connection I have with nature and the universe, because I feel this connection sometimes. And when I do, when I have it I feel blessed, because it gives me a sort of awareness and awakening. I've always felt guided in a way, with everything I do. I've always felt this higher force, that is always pushing me or or guiding me in a certain direction. So I, I try to go back to that.
And lastly, what do you remember when you succeed?
I remember the spark, you know, I remember the moment when I started a certain project and what led me to do it. That's what makes me the happiest, as I've learned, I've understood that throughout my different experiences and the different films I've done, I'm always the happiest when I'm working on them, and I'm always the unhappiest when everything is done, even with all the success and everything -- the end result is not really the top of the mountain, it's really the way there and all the different stages I went through to get there.