Based on similar lives in the country of Lebanon, writer/director Nadine Labaki tells the heart-wrenching story of 12-year-old Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) as he survives his life in the slums, leading him to an attempt to sue his parents for an unfit upbringing. Zain is faced with constant abuse – both physically and psychologically – and he’s used in questionable activity to help his family stay afloat. When times become too dire, Zain runs away only to find a desperate Ethiopian mother (Yordanos Shiferaw) who could use a helping hand raising her young son (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole).
Capernaum is realistic, but at what cost? The film, which uses non-actors to an incredible degree under Labaki’s unflinching persptive direction, gives troubled lives a voice they never had before. However, Capernaum is relentlessly depressing, and being a fly-on-the-wall through Zain’s trials and tribulations is exhausting. There’s hardly room for relief, except for when Zain is left to take care of the Ethiopian toddler. These are sweet, vulnerable moments of newfound companion for our maturing protagonist.
I can see why Nadine Labaki struck gold with Capernaum at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, and why her film was nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Foreign Language Motion Picture, and is currently a top contender at this year’s upcoming Oscars. The filmmaker, along with her production, should be very proud of the film they’ve made; even if it’s one some audiences won’t want to revisit ever again.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie