Hezbollah embarrassed in row over Labaki’s Cannes success

Hezbollah embarrassed in row over Labaki’s Cannes success

Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki winning the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for her film “Capharnaum” has stirred up a war of words that turned into a cultural clash with Hezbollah.

The story began after Lebanon celebrated the victory of the young female director, who won an important award at an international festival. Her film discusses a sensitive issue through the eyes of Zain, a young Syrian boy who lived a harsh life in Lebanon after he was forcibly displaced by the war in his homeland. The story addresses two of today’s most stirring issues in Lebanon and around the world — asylum and war. 

Labaki is a Lebanese name that has emerged in the world of cinema in recent years. Therefore, after she won an important international award, people were thrilled and expressed their joy on social media websites. This led a TV anchor from Hezbollah’s Al-Manar channel to criticize in a tweet the celebrations of Labaki’s victory, believing Hezbollah’s deceased fighters in Syria should be celebrated instead. 

This comment was enough to turn social media websites into open fronts between those lauding Labaki’s victory and Hezbollah supporters who were criticizing the celebrations. A series of tweets posted by Hezbollah MP Nawwaf Moussawi, who is known for his sharp tongue, added fuel to the fire. Through these messages, he belittled Labaki and said that nothing was of value but weapons. 

After strong attacks against him for his tweets, Moussawi retreated by announcing he had changed his Twitter account, although he did not apologize. His retreat was considered weak even by Hezbollah’s public — many of whom rose to defend Labaki and her victory, and express their discontent with the unjustified attack against her. 

Hezbollah criticism of Lebanon's joy at Nadine Labaki's Cannes Film Festival success shows it is incapable of entering important fields such as the arts.

Diana Moukalled

The case of Labaki has uncovered a real division over Lebanon’s meaning and image. It also showed that the Lebanese people’s association with weapons — even for those who are supposedly allied with Hezbollah — isn’t a fixed association or a real conviction but a topic that causes deep divisions, with which we will always be faced in all areas of life. 

During the Labaki-Hezbollah debate, we saw some people attempt to disparage the arts and cinema and consider weapons of the greatest value, while others believed Lebanon was meaningless if not for the few cultural activities and achievements that still exist. 

The story ended with Hezbollah withdrawing from the debate after heavy losses, releasing a statement that said: “What some people have said does not express Hezbollah’s opinion and was unnecessary.” In fact, this statement shows that, while Hezbollah is capable of influencing political and security decisions by force of arms, it is unable to enter other very important fields — those related to the arts, culture, and freedom of creativity. The party walked out of these a loser. 

The attack targeting Labaki’s victory was an implicit attack against the film and the message it conveys. The character Zain was a victim of the war in which Hezbollah played a key role. The issue most likely lies elsewhere: It is a deep feeling of failure and confusion about cinema and the arts, in which weapons cannot have a role. The protection provided by arms has proved to be fragile compared to the cultural protection the cinema provides to the meaning of freedom of expression and freedom of life.

A Lebanese director and a Syrian child have won an international award and this means there is another Lebanon — one that isn’t like what Hezbollah wants for us. This Lebanon is more important, more global, and capable of communicating with the world compared to the Lebanon of “resistance” that Hezbollah wants. This resistance is merely a heavy reality imposed by force. 

Zain Al-Rafeea, who plays Zain in the movie, was seen at all the ceremonies in Cannes, reminding Hezbollah, the Syrian regime and many others that it was they who turned this boy’s life into a tragedy. This child’s success greatly disturbed those who caused such suffering. 


  • Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer. 
  • Twitter: @dianamoukalled
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