Producer/ Composer Khaled Mouzanar on ‘Capernaum’ & America and The Middle East

ATM: Explain your musical style in this film.

KM: This film is about a kid who sues his parents for giving him life. He lives with his parents and his house. He lives on the streets in the slums. Usually, I write the music when working on the script. I cherish the freedom the scripts give me. I have the total freedom of imagining things when reading the script and before the shooting of the film. In this film, I imagined very romantic and sensitive music.

When meeting the actual kid and going to the slums – I talked to the children. I did not use what I had written before. The kid was about ten. He is a real kid from the street. It was very rural and violent. I had rewritten the whole music. When seeing the slums, I knew my music needed to reflect the dirt of the slums, the smell of the slums, and the violence of the slums.

I also produced the film and here throughout the process of the film. This helped me know better what I wanted to do. The film is the story of a kid who takes his own destiny on his hands and saves the other kids like him. This is like a prophetic story, like a prophecy. He suffers and rejected by his own. In the end, he decides to save his own. The story is very biblical. At the same time, it is a futuristic story. In the next 50 years, every city on the planet will have a slum like this one. The music had to be biblical and futuristic at the same time.

ATM: The film’s score cushions the other little boy and makes him seen as a symbolic figure like a prophet. Also, in the Bible, Jesus came to this very same city and he did the exact thing this kid does.

KM: Yes. Exactly.

ATM: He came to Capernaum and healed a man who was paralyzed. He took the position and stance of an authoritative figure and not like their peers. He was teaching them. This kid does the same exact thing.

KM: And this is what I wanted to show when getting the script. I understood the script on this level. It is something that became prophetic. It is not just about some street kid, but it is something more universal and biblical. I wrote the music and used the instrument which was determined by this idea. Even the choices of the instruments. I had decided on some classical beats. I represented the violin with a biblical instrument.

It is an instrument from Greece. It does something like a violin, but it sounds rawer and more humbled. This gave it a biblical sound. It used a lot of primitive sounds like Ethiopian and African instruments. It sounded futuristic and it is also science fiction and anticipation story. I used a contemporary sound. I wanted to feel the curse. This sound is cursed, and this kid is here to save them.

ATM: Not just in Lebanon, the world started as a slum. In certain societies, it could be called something else. In the next 50 years, this world is going to go backward instead of going forward.

KM: For me, musically, I used a lot of percussions. In humanity, we used percussions before giving sounds. So, going back was used with percussions. Going futuristic was used with typical African instruments with the orchestra to smooth the feeling of going backward. It is like going back to the future but going backward. It is when humanity starts using the trashes of civilization in a derived way. Civilization is not here more, but just the trash. This is what the story is about with respecting the old terms of civilization.

ATM: Why do you believe things will go back to the slums in the next 50 years?

KM: Because of global warming. There will be a lot of migration from the South the North and per population. This is erasing the walls and their way of life. All these populations will get pushed to the slums. The wealthy people will be in the center. It is now the case in every big city, but then it will be before. The overpopulation is continuing. It will be fewer valuable lands in the future with the overexploitations, overuse of water, and culture. This is not very optimistic, but if we continue then it will be very ugly.

ATM: Some films like this that give this futuristic depiction goes over people’s heads. Not all are thinking about the future in this far case. Most people are concentrated on now and not the next 50 years. You have to take now and talk about how it is going to be. Climate change has gotten worse.

KM: Is going to be like this everywhere. It is already now like this in New Delhi and in Mexico. There is a lot of places that is like this today. This story is a wakeup call for everyone. This kid is here for us to wake up and try to change things.

ATM: What was the reason for your prior perspective on it?

KM: The music was to clean, and it looked like me. It did not look like the kid. It looked like me living in my room and playing my piano. I was not actually like this. He is not an actor. All of them are not actors. They are not lying. There are real people like their story. I could not add a layer of myself onto them. I had to be respectful to who they are. Usually, in cinema people participate in lying. You can make the viewer think whatever when putting music onto it.

We wanted the viewer to feel they were watching something realistic and true. I had to be faithful to them. It was the hardest to score. The actors were true. We felt sometimes there was no need for scoring. The only sound we needed was the sounds of the city. The sound of the slums. We divided the films, so all the chorus is in the city. We were more poetic when putting in the score.

ATM: Explain some authentic factors the slums have that the wealthy lack in Lebanon or in general.

KM: The wealthy parts are missing real life. I took my kid to the shoot with us. My kid is in a very good school and everything. He lived in a clean environment. He owns his PlayStation and everything else like a kid living in a normal city. I took him to the slum. He spent a lot of time with the actor. The actor did not know how to read or write. He used to live on the street. When putting them together, they were practically the same age. The actor was stronger.

He had the intelligence of life that my kid coming from a normal school did not have. This is what they are lacking in their education. We overprotect our kids. We put plastic on the walls and rooms for them not to bump their heads. We put hand sanitizer and air cleaners for them not to breathe clean air. This is not a good thing to do anymore. This changed air and perception. They should be more presume at an early age to experience the ugly.

ATM: In America, education makes you a perfectionist. It does not make know what is like to fail. You get rewarded when you do not fail. When you fail you do not go to the next grade.

KM: Yes. This is an image. We put plastic on their life with their grades.

ATM: The education and the teachers baby them. When they get out in the real world, they do not know what to do. A lot of people who learned from life is stronger and know more about life. They learned by falling.

KM: Yes. This film changed my view on education and it just changed me a lot. I do not think our education is a good one. It is beautiful to see my think and that life is beautiful. I do not think it is the best way anymore.

ATM: It is not. It is failing our kids with them knowing it.

KM: Yes.

ATM: Describe the education system in Lebanon.

KM: There are both slums and public school. In public schools, the education is not great. The kids do not go to school like this kid. We have a lot of refugees here. The problems are that we have a million and half Syrian refugees. We have half a million Palestine refugees who do not have access to school, and they are on the street. This is the main problem.

ATM: In my country, it is not as horrendous as this. We just have a lot of immigrants at the border. We have been denied a connection with their parents. They are being secretly kept in concentration camps and the media is not very much on it. The most horrible things are done to them.

KM: Yes. The kid is now with the United Nations. We had him go to Norway with his parents. He is living in a house and going to school. He has an identity and a VISA passport. He has a new life because of the film and the United Nations. I am happy and this is a happy ending story.

ATM: What values did the parents represent?

KM: There is no black and white. There is bad and the good. There is a famous book where good parents and adopted baby was the victim. It was also a story about poverty in France during the 19th century. In this film, the parents are bad. We tried to understand their point of view and struggle. We tried to understand why they did what they did. They were also born like this and did not have education themselves.

They did not have access to any other culture. There are ways of society. So, we are not here to judge them. In the film, the mother said to the lawyer, “Who are you to judge me. You were never here when not having food to give to my kids. Giving them sugar and water.” You have not been in their shoes. We are not here to be judgment toward the parents. We are here to show the reality. The judgment comes from the kid, not from us.

ATM: There is a difference between the parenting style with Lebanon as seen in the film and the in society. Someone from America could look at this as child neglect or child abuse. Then in other cultures, it could be the parents were doing the best but ran out of answers. This is not judging but seeing it from different angles based on societal norms.

KM: Every culture has bad and good things. There are people who live like this in some slums. It is not related to just poverty. You can very rich and still neglect your child. You can be rich to be violent toward your child and become a drug addict. This is not related to the socialness.

It was related to the parents being in a micro-society. They were raised like this and did not have the choice to do something else. It does not mean they do not love their kids. In this society, mothers and girls could be married at this age. We are trying to put awareness around this.

ATM: In the middle east, in this case, Lebanon the overprotection of the child goes over 18. Whereas, in my country, it is typically 18. In this part of the world, it is until the child is a well-off adult. It does not stop. These different customs of parents help shape an individual to view what is happening in unique angles. In Western cultures it is different.

KM: The state took place of the family. In some societies, in the Middle East, South American societies, or the Mediterranean, the family is still tied together. The state is the social security of the kid and the parents. In some states, the state does everything. There is no need for social security. The states pay for your education and everything and retirement.

In other countries, this is not the system. The parents pay for the kids and later the kids pay the retirement of their parents. The familial link is also an economic link. The state comes in taking the economic link and raises the family. In Europe, the families are less strong in this country.

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