Nadine Labaki, director and co-writer
Starring: Zain Al Rafeea (Zain), Yordanos Shiferaw (Rahil), Boluwatife Treasure Bankole (Yonas)
Capernaum may mean chaos in Lebanese but Nadine Labaki’s film was made with the clear intent of making audiences realize how difficult life is for children in the Middle East. The talented director and actor has fashioned a tough, moving drama about a 12 year old boy, Zain, whose circumstances have been so tragic that he decides to sue his parents for giving birth to him. Fashioned as a legal drama, with Labaki acting as Zain’s lawyer, Capernaum depicts the melodramatic events that brought the boy , imprisoned for a violent attack on a man’s life, to bring his family to court.
The winner of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and numerous Audience Awards at such places as Leeds, Melbourne, Sao Paulo, Sarajevo and Calgary, Capernaum plunges us into the helter-skelter world that is contemporary Beirut. Told in flashbacks from the courtroom, the film starts with Zain living with his abusive mother, neglectful father and countless siblings, one of whom he loves—his 11 year old sister Sahar. When his parents send Sahar to live with their landlord Assadd, Zain fights them in a futile attempt to save his sister. Kicked out, Zain finds himself homeless until an illegal Ethiopian refugee, Rahil, takes him in. Quickly, the tough foul mouthed Zain becomes a surrogate older brother to her child, Yonas, with Rahil supporting them on her tiny wages as a cleaner. But when Rahil is arrested, Zain has to take care of Yonas with no money at all. Events become tougher when Zain goes crazily angry after discovering that Sahar has died in a miscarriage, which incites his violent crime.
Labaki shot Capernaum in Beirut and the city serves as a brilliant backdrop for the events in the film. She elicits good performances from a supporting cast of mainly non-professionals and superb ones from her lead Zain Al Rafeea (as Zain) and Yordanos Shiferaw, who plays the lovely Rahil. Capernaum is the Lebanese entry into the Oscars, which has certainly helped it to get a wide North American release. Fast-paced and emotionally gripping, this is the type of foreign film that can, and should, garner a good audience: it’s definitely worth seeing.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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