'A few weeks ago, I said goodbye to Zain. I watched him take a last look from this small terrace above his house at what has been his life for the past 8 years. He loved his life in Beirut in spite of the fear, and the hardships he was facing every day'
'Life has been hard on him mostly because he's a refugee': Nadine Labaki writes heartfelt note to young Syrian actor Zain Al Rafeea
The young Syrian refugee Zain Al Rafeea, who was working as a delivery boy in Lebanon when he was discovered and hired by film director Nadine Labaki, has been resettled in Norway with his family.
Al Rafeea, who is now 14, starred in Labaki's celebrated Capernaum, a heart-breaking film about an impoverished Lebanese boy of the same name, who sues his parents for, in his words, "giving me life”.
In a statement posted on her Instagram account, alongside an image of Al Rafeea, Labaki explained that the young actor “was just a child searching for a home”.
“A few weeks ago, I said goodbye to Zain,” the lengthy message reads. “Zain and all his family have been resettled in Norway. Just a few minutes before heading to the airport, I watched him take a last look from this small terrace above his house [at] what has been his life for the past 8 years. A life that has been hard on him mostly because he is a refugee.
“With tears in his beautiful eyes, he said he was going to miss his cousins, his birds, his life. He loved his life in Beirut in spite of the fear, and the hardships he was facing every day.
“We all miss you here but we are happy you will now be able to go to school and learn and be the best version of yourself.”
Capernaum was awarded the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and has been selected to represent Lebanon in the “Best Foreign Language Film” category at the 2019 Academy Awards.
Earlier this year, Al Rafeea joined Labaki on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival, where Capernaum received a 10-minute standing ovation. When asked about his transformation from delivery boy to film star, Al Rafeea told reporters: “It’s easy. She [Labaki] asks me sometimes to be sad, sometimes to be happy – that’s it.”
Labaki filmed 520 hours of footage over six months for Capernaum, which stars a number of other novice actors, and aims to raise awareness about Lebanon’s forgotten street children.
“I did more than three years of research,” the 44-year-old, who is perhaps best known for 2007 comedy-drama Caramel, said in May. “I was trying to understand how the system fails these kids […] You feel completely powerless. And that’s maybe why we turn away.”
Al Rafeea’s move to Norway feels like the culmination of a remarkable journey for the young boy. “When we started [shooting] he wasn’t going to school and faced a lot of hardships” Labaki said at the Cannes Film Festival. “He’s only now just learned to read and write his name. There are thousands of kids in his situation.”