Lebanon returns to the Academy Awards for the second year in a row with Nadine Labaki’s Capharnaum. Hailed as a social-realist depiction of poverty in the slums of Beirut, the film follows Zain Al Hajj (Zain Al Rafeea), a 12-year-old boy who sues his parents for giving birth to him. With the ceremony just hours away, we look at the chances of Capharnaum at nabbing the award for Best Foreign Language.
While Capharnaum was recently nominated for a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and a Critic’s Choice Award, it lost to Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma across the board. Roma is both a critic and fan-favorite contender. Mexico’s entry has received major nominations and awards in various categories (Cinematography, Screenplay, Directing) and is nominated for both Best Foreign Language and Best Picture at the Oscars, in addition to another eight nominations. The film is a clear frontrunner and will most likely take home the Oscar for one if not both of the latter awards, posing the greatest obstacle for Capharnaum.
While Japan’s Shoplifters has garnered positive acclaim among critics, it has mostly stayed under the radar this season due to limited release and distribution. Still, one cannot forget where contention among these foreign films began: back in May 2018, Shoplifters and Capharnaum vied for the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival, but it was the Japanese story about humanity in times of need that took home the biggest prize of the night. Sitting at a 93 Metascore, it’s also difficult to ignore critic’s adoration of the film in the face of generally positive but somewhat mixed reviews of Labaki’s film.
While Roma was expected to make multiple appearances in this year’s nominations, it was Poland’s Cold War that shocked with Best Director and Best Cinematography nods. Director Pawel Pawlikowsi’s second feature following his hiatus from film is an ode to his parents’ tumultuous relationship and a staggering piece of art. Having one Foreign Language Film win under his belt already for Ida, the director is clearly loved by The Academy and is the plausible underdog in this race — and we all love an underdog.
Germany’s Never Look Away rounds the list of nominees with a nod for Cinematography in addition to its Best Foreign Language Film nod. The period drama about a man tormented by his own memory hasn’t made quite the splash its fellow contenders have in this awards season, but it also wasn’t expected to get nominated in one category, let alone two. It might not be the strong contender everyone thinks it is, but it is by no means a weak one.
Multiple nominations across various categories puts these films at an advantage, but also poses somewhat of a problem. Three of the five cinematography nominees are foreign films and two are director nominees, which could suggest a small split in the vote amongst some of the crafts — especially between Roma and Cold War — but the fact that Roma is so overwhelmingly present in other categories suggests that these voters will ultimately sway for the Mexican black and white drama. Still, the Oscars have been surprising in the past, and one cannot eliminate the possibility of a voting split.
So where does that leave Capharnaum? Despite its many losses, the film has recently picked up speed thanks to strong social media presence by both Labaki’s team and other celebrities. Major celebrities have also been hailing the films: Oprah wrote an instagram post dedicated to the film and Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce proclaimed their love for what they dubbed “the best movie of the year”. Labaki also released a short video about the process of making the film and going to Cannes, featuring her team and the young actors.
While these factors may not seem to have much sway, they hint at a growing recognition and admiration for Labaki’s work. This ultimately may not mean much in terms of winning, but it does bode well for the recognition of Arab talent.
The verdict? Capharnaum will most likely not take home an Oscar tonight, but it remains a reason to celebrate that a Lebanese film, directed by a woman, has made waves this year.
The 91st Academy Awards will air live tonight on OSN Movies HD at 3:00 AM.