Capernaum – Film Review by Frank L
Directed by Nadine Labaki
Writers: Nadine Labaki (screenplay), Jihad Hojeily (screenwriter)
Stars: Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole
The entire movie centres on Zain (Zain Al Raafea), who is probably about twelve years old, but as he has no birth certificate his age cannot be determined. His parents are not certain as he is one of their many children. He is in prison for a crime. He is extraordinarily bringing a case against his parents to stop them having any more children.
Director Nadine Labaki then reveals how this strange situation has come to pass. The location is Beirut and the world in which Zain moves is that of refugees and various people with out papers. He has never been to school and scrapes a living running errands for a dubious shop owner. He adores an older sister Sahar (Haita ‘Cedra’ Izzam) but she is sold off by the parents when she has her first period. Zain is heartbroken and runs away. He finds an undocumented woman who has a baby whom he looks after while she finds work but the woman is eventually arrested. He is then left to look after the baby. This would place extraordinary strains on anyone but on an uneducated kid, which is all that Zain is, it is a vast challenge. The story takes many twists and turns until it returns to the courtroom and the case against his parents.
Labaki, who co-wrote the story, has used first-time actors who in real life have undergone experiences similar to those in the film. In finding Zain Al Raaefa she unearthed an individual who is a natural in front of the camera. He at all times he is captivating and his attempts to look after and feed the baby is magnificently portrayed.
Labaki presents an anarchic nightmare world in which Zain and his compatriot refugees live. She shows the ingenuity with which these people manage to use the few scraps of material goods which come their way. It is a grim world. However, Zain’s resilience and maturity manages to rise above the never ending squalor of it all.
The consequences of war on individual lives is here shown in all its every day humiliation. What Zain is born into is an existence without hope. He manages despite his tender years to transcend the reality. It is a unique film which is awe-inspiring in its concept and in its execution. A film that needs to be seen.