'Capernaum' Director Nadine Labaki Celebrates $40M+ Chinese Box Office: "It's a Big Surprise"

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
Nadine Labaki shooting 'Capernaum'

The Lebanese arthouse hit is now the most successful Middle East film of all time thanks to its incredible performance in China.

A year after Nadine Labaki's Capernaum had its world premiere in Cannes' main competition, winning her the jury prize, the Lebanese director has returned to the Croisette, not simply as Un Certain Regard jury president, but with the news that her acclaimed Oscar-nominated drama had – thanks to incredible recent box office results coming from China – now amassed a global haul in excess of $50 million. 

The figure – which is still rising (it currently stands at $43.5 million in China) – makes Capernaum the most successful Middle East film globally of all time, a source confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. 

"It's a big surprise for me," she explained during Kering's Women in Motion talk in Cannes on Thursday. "It's very new. And it's happening right now!"

China's Road Pictures marketed and released the film in late April after acquiring it in Cannes last year.

Labaki said she thought Capernaum – which explores the very real plight of Lebanese street children – resonated well because the problems it addresses were not particular to any one country. 

"It could be any child anywhere in the world," she said, pointing out that there were a billion children living in such conditions. "It could be about children being separated from their parents at the Mexican border in America. Or Indian children working to feed families, Syrian children dying form chemical weapon. Or children being in that same situation in China. It’s universal."

The success of Capernaum had, Labaki explained, opened numerous doors, including finding her an agent at CAA and seeing a steady flow of scripts sent her way. But she said she was reluctant simply to do a Hollywood film for the sake of it. 

"Making a film is a personal battle. It takes so much energy, so it has to be worth it," she said. "Otherwise it would be fake and just for the temptation of making a film in Hollywood."

Before she chooses her next project, Labaki is working on a documentary about the street children in Capernaum, including the kids that she cast, with the hope of pushing the matter beyond just the film. "I want to explore how to really make a change. The film has been seen and has started a debate. Now we need to work on the ground with the government to see what laws have been altered." 

Moving on from Capernaum, a five-year project, wasn't going to be easy, she admitted. "It's difficult to turn the page. There's still so much for us to do."