But the story that it tells is set against a backdrop that is anything but glorious – the film gets its name from the biblical village that was doomed by Jesus, and which later came to signify chaos. 12-year-old Zain (Zain al Rafeea) is brought out of Lebanon’s notorious Roumieh prison – where he is doing time for stabbing – to face his parents in court. The Beirut boy is suing his parents for the fact that he has been born – a legal stunt encouraged by a TV current affairs show as a way of publicising the issue of child poverty.
In a hellish and chaotic home, Zain’s parents earn their living by smuggling drugs into the local prison, and keep their youngest from their cooking supplies by chaining the infant by the ankle. Embittered by poverty, the final straw for Zain comes when his parents effectively sell his 11-year-old sister Samar (Cedra Izam) as a wife to their landlord’s creepy son for a few chickens.
Zain runs away from home and ends up roaming the slums of Beirut. There, he pals up with Ethiopian immigrant Rahil (Yordanos Shifera) and her infant son Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole), who she smuggles into work in a shopping cart – and then things take a devastating turn for the trio.
Labaki grew up amidst the civil war in Lebanon herself, and Capernaum follows her previous films, Caramel and Where Do We Go Now in tackling societal ills. The director stays true to her filmography also in continuing to cast mostly non-professional actors – al Rafeaa is a Syrian refugee who had never slept in a bed before he resettled in Norway with his family post-Cannes.
Capernaum’s child actors are already reaping praise: al Rafeaa is commended as ‘a startling, unforgettable presence’ as the aggressive and cynical Zain who doesn’t fear telling ‘dickheads’ to ‘fuck off’, while Bankole has been lauded as ‘an impressive baby girl cast as a boy’.
Capernaum is on screen to make a statement: Zain’s lawsuit against his parents is an outcry about the whole system and its failures. Labaki has remained on the world’s radar ever since her first film Caramel, and Capernaum promises to keep her firmly there.
|What||Capernaum: Cannes hit calls to arms against childhood poverty|
01 Feb 19 – 01 Feb 20, 12:00 AM
|Price||£ determined by cinemas|
|Website||Click here for more information|