Country : Lebanon
Director : Nadine Labaki
Screenplay : Nadine Labaki, Jihad Hojaily, Michelle Keserwany
Available on Netflix- https://www.netflix.com/in/title/81002571
The moving drama, “Capernaum”( a place with a “disorderly accumulation of objects) follows a boy who runs away and winds up roaming the slums of Beirut shouldering a distressing responsibility.
It is the story of a Beirut street kid who has run away from his unhappy, abusive home. He is befriended by an Ethiopian woman working as a cleaner without legal papers and he gets to stay with her in return for tending to her baby while she is out at work. But when she is picked up by the police, he is forced to head back to the streets, taking the baby along with him. He is confronted by some terrible choices. The extended, improvised scenes of the boy and the baby on the streets are poignantly portrayed in the film. Labaki’s style of film making even re-creates memories of Chaplin’s The Kid and De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves. Capernaum tells us what poverty and desperation mean and conversely what love and humanity could mean in a callous and indeterminate world. The parallel between Jesus’s precocity and that of this film’s young hero brings in a rare element of irony. The boy, Zain, is infuriated by the humiliation and cruelty meted out to him by his parents through force of circumstance and abject poverty. They are making money through smuggling opioid drugs into prison (where his elder brother is held as a convict). To Zain’s horror, his careworn mother Souad and father Selim are scheming to sell his eleven year old sister as a child bride to the exploitative landlord’s son in return for money. In a rage, Zain runs away and comes across the kind-hearted Rahil and her baby son Yonas. In the process, he also encounters the sinister businessman and entrepreneur Aspro. In short, ‘Capernaum’ is not a cry from the heart, but an angry shout.
In its premiere at Cannes in May 2019, the film received a 15-minute standing ovation and won the Jury Prize, one of the many honours on the festival circuit. This month, it secured a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign-language film, paving the way for a potential Oscar nomination in the same category. For a film which has won so much of critical acclaim, it is surprising that Capernaum features mostly non-professional actors in Zain al Rafeea, a 12-year-old Syrian refugee in the role of Zain, Boluwatife Bankole, as the baby girl and Yordanos Shiferaw as Rahil. All of them have turned in wonderful performances too.
At an ideological plane, ‘Capernaum’ is about a boy who sues his parents for bringing him into this chaotic world. Not only he is suing his parents, but even the whole system because he feels that his parents too are victims of that draconian system — one that is failing on so many levels and that completely ends up excluding people. It is not just a story of children in Lebanon but a universal story of children’s predicament anywhere in the world.