Director: Nadine Labaki
Starring: Zain Al Rafeea
Release date: September 20, 2018 (Lebanon)
Capernaum is a depressing look at the effects of human suffering and a reminder that this world we live in is an unforgiving shithole.
Capernaum is an Arabic-language film by Lebanese director Nadine Labaki. The movie was originally released in Lebanon in late September, but has seen a wider American release following its Oscar nomination for best foreign language film. Prior to its nomination, it already had festival awards falling out of its ass and would be the Oscar favorite is Roma was fighting fair.
Like Roma, Capernaum is a deeply human movie that casts a first-time actor as its lead, with great results. Foreign specification aside, Capernaum is one of the most powerful movies of the last year.
Capernaum is the tale of a boy named Zain who lives in Lebanon. Zain, who may be 12 (he has no birth certificate), is one out of a large group of siblings. His parents are piss poor and struggle to provide a stable life for their children. Their inability to provide adequate care causes them to make a series of ethically reckless decisions. Zain, who is cynical and headstrong beyond his years, grows a deep resentment for his parents and their decision to keep having children. Zain runs away in search of something better and is forced to fight, alone, for survival. Through his journey, he makes a series of decisions that lead to more misery. The events of Zain’s life cause him to curse his own birth and hate life itself. It’s some dark shit.
Capernaum is a harrowing film with an acute look at human suffering, loss of innocence and the resilient spirit of children. It hits on its intended marks with just enough charm and family dynamic to make an otherwise depressing story watchable.
Zain Al Rafeea is brilliant as the lead, a prerequisite for the movie’s success. His ability to project his internal misery onto his face is what makes this whole thing work. Al Rafeea, along with an adorable little black baby, are the backbone of this movie. Great cinematography and a memorable score don’t hurt either.
It’s hard not to compare Capernium to two similar movies from the last couple of years. It’s is in the vein of movies like Lion, in which an adolescent boy has to navigate a shithole and survive on his own, and The Florida Project, in which a group of children are robbed of their innocence at the hands of their caretakers’ reckless decisions. Like those movies, Capernum leaves a lasting impression. If you fucked with those, you’ll probably fuck with this.
In any other year, Capernaum is a favorite to win the Oscar for best foreign film but Roma is basically holding the statue already. Still, Capernaum is well worth the 150 minute run-time and the trip to the obscure theater you’ll be forced to watch it in. Two thumbs up.