Lebanon’s last Oscar contender, Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum, has been making headlines pretty much since the day it was released. Currently serving as the highest-grossing Middle Eastern film with an estimated US $68 million in box office earnings, it will go down in history as one of Lebanon’s most impressive and moving films of all time. Lebanon has a brilliant history of filmmaking, with several Lebanese films making it to the Oscars. The work of Philippe Aractingi is among them.
Philippe Aractingi is a Franco-Lebanese director born in 1964, and his movies have made headlines for years. Self-taught, he began his career by taking photographs of Beirut’s daily life during the Lebanese civil war and directed his first documentary at age 21.
In 1989, he left Lebanon and moved to France. He opened himself up to the world of film and, by 2001, had directed around twenty films. In 1993, driven by the desire to experiment with various types of media and touch upon diverse topics, Philippe co-wrote “Les Mères à l’Epreuve du Liban” with Lela Chikhani-Nacouz, which gained him his first major recognition.
Today, he continues to devote a big part of his work to Lebanon, and to the aftermath of the Lebanese Civil war. Some of his most beautiful works are films like Through Mothers’ Eyes (1992), which garnered commercial and critical acclaim in both Lebanon and France.
In his film Beirut of Stones and Memories (1993), he reveals the scars of the city, associating texts by the Lebanese poet Nada Tueni with his images of Beirut ruins.
When in 2006 Israel aggressed Lebanon, destroying most of its infrastructure, Aractingi decided to shoot his second feature movie. Filmed two days after the end of the war, Under the Bombs (released in 2008) placed two professional actors in the South of Lebanon, and confronted them with real-life civilians, soldiers, rescue teams, and more; all who portrayed themselves in the film.
This fictional story with a real-life setting, which combined improvised and written scenes, has been distributed in around twenty countries. Under the Bombs was selected at the Venice Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, and the Dubai International Film Festival, and has also won 23 international awards. Bosta and Under the Bombs have both represented Lebanon at the Oscars.
For his third film in 2013, Aractingi bets on yet another type of writing: the autobiography. Heritages (2013) narrates the exile of his own family across four generations and one hundred years of history.
The film effortlessly moves between archival images, reconstructed scenes, and home videos, all the while dealing with often-difficult subjects of memory and transference with a smile.
Founder of Fondation Liban Cinema, Aractingi is also a sitting vice president at Screen Institute Beirut (SIB). He directed more recently a documentary film through the holy sites in the South of Lebanon: On The Footsteps of Christ.
Film after film, Philippe Aractingi is constantly searching for a new cinematographic form, which rests between fiction and reality, and is able to represent the Middle East where “chaos is always intertwined with order and tragedy with joy.”