Lebanese multihyphenate Nadine Labaki’s most recent directorial effort, the Oscar-nominated “Capernaum,” shed light on Beirut’s desperation before her city was blasted last year by one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded. She is in Venice this year as an actor in Mounia Akl’s first feature “Costa Brava, Lebanon,” which against all odds started shooting two months after the blast, also defying the pandemic and Lebanon’s economic collapse.
The potent pic, which screened in Venice Horizons, sees Labaki and Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri (“The Band’s Visit”) playing Soraya and Walid, a couple who have left Beirut with their children for an idyllic, isolated life in the Lebanese mountains, until one day the government decides to build a garbage landfill right beside their house. Labaki spoke to Variety about how important it was for her to get back to work on a pic that says a lot about her country’s plight, but also speaks to the world at large. Excerpts.
“Costa Brava” begins with a shot of the Beirut port. I could not help thinking about the symbolic significance of that.
That made it very emotional for all of us that were part of this film. The crew, the actors, the Lebanese people who attended the Venice screening. I think it was a very emotional journey. It’s not just another film. It’s really about what we are going through, and it reflects what we are living right now. The contradictions and the love/hate relationship with our country; our struggles and ambivalence in our feelings. Do we stay? Do we leave? How much are we willing to give up to stay and resist? What can you do in this situation? Can you isolate yourself like the family in the film? Or should you leave the country because you need to survive and you need to protect your sanity? Or should you instead just dive into the chaos and try to change and be part of the change, even though you may lose yourself?
Then there is also a purely ecological aspect that can be stripped away from the country’s context.
Well, many people around the world are living in this self-sustainable, self-sufficient way. Moving away from the cities and back into nature. Lots of people are experiencing this new way of living. But we struggle between these two lifestyles. Do we do that [go back to nature] and remain open and connected to the world, or do we go back to the way we used to live, with the pollution and the traffic, the tall buildings and cement and plastic? We have strayed so far from the real thing, and from nature. I think on the whole it’s a big question that we need to start asking ourselves.
It sounds like you are personally living this struggle in real life.
I am. I identify a lot with Soraya. My family and I have decided to also live in the countryside. We live in a cabin in the woods, we grow our own vegetables and fruits, we have chickens and goats, we make our own cheese. We live a very similar life [to the family in the film]. For me it was very natural to be her. It was an act of resistance. We are not going to surrender to the state of being zombies that we were in and just pick up the pieces and start working again, because it’s our duty. The cultural resistance in Lebanon is the only thing that’s going to save us.