Film Review: ‘Capernaum’ justifies the hype on its GCC debut

Boluwatife Treasure Bankole (L) and Zain Al-Rafeea in ‘Capernaum’ (Sony Pictures Classics)
Updated 18 March 2019

Film Review: ‘Capernaum’ justifies the hype on its GCC debut

  • Nadine Labaki’s Oscar-nominated ‘Capernaum’ finally makes it onto the GCC big screen
  • The movie tells a story of experiences no child should have, but many do

DUBAI: Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum” landed the acclaimed Lebanese filmmaker an Oscar nomination and the Jury Prize at Cannes. It has now arrived on screens in the GCC. “Capernaum” centers on Zain, a 12-year-old Lebanese boy serving a five-year sentence for “stabbing a son of a bitch” (as Zain explains it in court).

As the film opens, Zain is appearing before a judge for a different reason — to sue his parents for bringing him into the world.

This is not just an act of teenage spite; Zain believes the case will enable him to gain a passport, health insurance and entry to school (his parents never registered his birth, so he has no national ID card).

We then step back in time to discover how Zain came to this point. He and his siblings live in abject poverty and their parents willingly exploit them for small material gains, even marrying off their 11-year-old daughter — and Zain’s best friend — Sahar, in return for a few chickens.

Desperate to escape the squalor of what can barely be called home, Zain takes to the streets.

Labaki cleverly shoots these scenes from a child’s perspective, revealing the disorienting nature of the city’s chaos from waist height.

Zain befriends Ethiopian cleaning lady Rahil, who shares her meager food and shelter with him.

Rahil, like Zain, lacks official documentation, and she has an illegitimate toddler son, Yonas, whom she fears will be taken away from her if he is discovered.

When Rahil is picked up in a police raid and jailed, Zain is literally left holding the baby, without knowing when Rahil might return or what has happened to her.

Seeing Zain face the dilemma of what to do to care for Yonas is horrifying. As, indeed, is much of the film.

These are situations no child should have to deal with. But, of course, children do deal with them. And the majority of adults, as in the film, look away — and if they don’t, then the motives for their interest are often malicious.

The extent of the misery inherent in “Capernaum” would be almost unwatchable if it weren’t for Labaki’s empathy and energy as a director, and for the astonishing performances of her mostly amateur cast, in particular Zain Al-Rafeea as Zain and Yordanos Shiferaw as Rahil. (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole, as baby Yonas, also deserves a mention. Seriously.)

The ending seems a little rushed — strangely so for a two-and-a-half hour film — and is, arguably, too neat for a film so grounded in realism. But it’s hard to begrudge Zain (and Labaki) some fictional optimism after the grueling emotional ride to get there. “Capernaum” fully deserves its awards and attention.

NOW READ: Arab News' exclusive interview with the film's director, Nadine Labaki 


Obi-Wan, Lizzie McGuire join new Disney Plus platform

Updated 23 min 12 sec ago

Obi-Wan, Lizzie McGuire join new Disney Plus platform

  • The audience of about 6,000 at a convention center adjacent to Disneyland also voiced enthusiasm for another “Star Wars“-related series
  • The new channel will also feature a reboot of popular series ‘Lizzie McGuire’

ANAHEIM, Calif: Ewan McGregor is reprising his “Star Wars” role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in a new series, one of the many splashy projects that Disney is banking on to make its new streaming platform competitive.
The as-yet untitled Disney Plus show drew big cheers when it was announced Friday at the D23 Expo fan event, as did a “Lizzie McGuire” reboot with original star Hilary Duff playing a grown-up version of the title character.
The audience of about 6,000 at a convention center adjacent to Disneyland also voiced enthusiasm for another “Star Wars“-related series, “The Mandalorian,” which its producers said is set in an unexplored time for the space saga and features new characters.
Disney Plus had a receptive crowd, with expo attendees lining up to buy discounted subscriptions before the showcase. But it laid out a two-hour banquet of show trailers and stars to further whet fans’ appetite, starting with a performance by cast members of the new “High School Musical” series and appearances by McGregor, Duff, Kristen Bell, Anna Kendrick and others.
“It’s been four years of saying, ‘I don’t know’” when he was asked about the long-discussed Obi-Wan project, McGregor said. “Now I can say, ‘Yes, we’re going to do it.’”

Known currently as ‘Untitled Obi-Wan Kenobi Series,’ starring Ewan McGregor, will stream exclusively on Disney+, which launches Nov. 12. (Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney/AFP)

Among the movies set for the streaming service launching Nov. 12: the holiday comedy “Noelle,” starring Kendrick, Bill Hader and Billy Eichner, and a live-action remake of 1955’s animated film “Lady and the Tramp,” with Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux voicing the canine couple. Yvette Nicole Brown, who hosted the Disney Plus showcase, also stars.
Disney is reaching into its library for the streaming service with classic projects and updates on them, like “Lady and the Tramp.” But it’s also relying on brands that were acquired by Disney, including Marvel, Pixar, Fox’s entertainment businesses, and “Star Wars” home Lucasfilm, making it a formidable newcomer.
“Ms. Marvel,” “Moon Knight” and “She-Hulk,” derived from Marvel comics, are being developed as live-action series for Disney Plus, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige announced. Also coming is “What If...?” an animated series that imagines alternate Marvel universe realities, such as Peggy Carter as Captain America.

 ‘Lizzie McGuire’ starring Hilary Duff (R), will stream exclusively on Disney+. (Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney/AFP)

“Monsters At Work” is a series inspired by the Pixar movie “Monsters, Inc.” with a new cast of monsters and starring Ben Feldman and Aisha Tyler in its voice cast.
Among the other programs for Disney Plus, which is launching with a $7 monthly price tag (pricing to vary outside the United States):
— “Diary of a Female President,” a comedy series about a Cuban-American girl’s middle-school experience and her path to becoming the US president. Tess Romero plays Elena, with Gina Rodriguez producing and guest-starring as the adult version.
— “The World According to Jeff Goldblum,” a National Geographic series in which the actor explores such things as sneakers, ice cream and synchronized swimming.
— “Encore!” from executive producer Bell, which gives former castmates of high school musicals the chance to perform together again and revisit their teenage insecurities.
— “Forky Asks a Question,” with Tony Hale reprising his role from “Toy Story 4” in new Pixar animated shorts about the inquisitive toy.