Capernaum is a Lebanese drama film which premiered at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. It is directed by Nadine Labaki, who also portrays the character of the protagonist’s lawyer. The film stars Syrian refugee child actor, Zain Al Rafeea, as the lead character, a 12 year old boy living in the slums of Beirut. Many of the other characters are novices which the director believed was necessary to show a real struggle on the big screen. It received a standing ovation following its premiere at Cannes.
The title means Chaos and also refers to the biblical village that was doomed by Jesus. The director lets the actors be who they are while she captures it in its originality instead of telling them how to act. The movie switches between two narratives, one being an emotional court room drama and the other being the protagonist’s journey leading up to his attempts of suing his parents and his encounter with an Ethiopian immigrant and her infant son. The film is told in a flashback format. In motion pictures and literature, this format interrupts the chronological sequence of events to interject events of earlier occurrence.
The movie begins with the visualisation of lives of the marginalised; making us wonder, no matter which country one lives in, the lives of the marginalised seems similar. Children in slums running around playing with guns made of wood and smoking. Maybe a hard life does make you violent in nature. The lead character is a young boy who gets arrested for a serious crime and is serving time in prison, wherein his parents who don’t even know his exact age, testified against him. The protagonist wants to sue his parents for child neglect and the situation he and his siblings are in. The boy is infuriated by the indignity and cruelty that he and his siblings are subjected to because of their parent’s poverty and ignorance in a chaotic world.
The movie shows the journey of a kid born and bought up in the slums struggling through his life, working odd jobs at a tender age to help his family make ends meet. There’s a scene where the boy while working looks in awe at kids going to school. The boy lives with his parents and siblings in a cramped room. The movie also puts in light how young girls from an under-privileged background are subjected to molestation on the streets while working and how they have to live with no proper menstrual hygiene. In a particular scene, the young boy is seen cleaning the blood stains on his sister’s undergarments, having her first periods, in order to hide it from their parents who would have gotten her married as per the customs in their society and later on he is seen stealing sanitary pads for her. The boy runs away from his abusive home and ends up meeting an illegal immigrant who befriends him and lets him stay at her place to take care of her infant son.
The improvised scenes of the boy and the baby on the streets has been directed and performed wonderfully. Al Rafaae gives an extra ordinary performance as Zain who is aggressive and furious at his parents and the society. He portrays the character of a fighter kid buried within setbacks beyond his years bereaving him from the innocence of childhood. The movie is filled with heart-breaking scenes that hits you in the guts and makes you feel guilty of your privileges. It makes you think before judging people for their crimes from a position of privilege. The movie will break your heart but ends with a smile that might bring a smile to your face and lots of thoughts to ponder upon. The movie talks about how poverty and desperation make monsters out of humans while at the same time talks about the meaning of humanity and love.
It’s a universal story talking about kids who are deprived of their fundamental rights and childhood. It refrains from being exploitative by maintaining a respectfully realistic tone without indulging in poverty porn. It was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or and won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It was also nominated for the Golden Globes and Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. You can watch this heart-wrenching and soulful movie on Netflix.
About the Writer
Chirag Raveendran is a movie buff who might forget the plot after watching them but remembers the feel till the very end. Movies, in a lot of ways have been like a guru to him. They have helped him in polishing his views, in opening his eyes and in making him more empathetic and understanding towards others.