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 


Exiled actress Farahani decries ‘massacre’ in Iran

Updated 06 December 2019

Exiled actress Farahani decries ‘massacre’ in Iran

  • Golshifteh Farahani: ‘It’s a massacre, with hundreds of people dead’
  • Farahani upset the Iranian authorities when she appeared in Ridley Scott’s spy thriller ‘Body of Lies’

MARRAKESH, Morocco: Exiled Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani has condemned what she called a “massacre” in her homeland, which has been rocked by a wave of deadly protests.
Farahani, Iran’s first actress to star in a Hollywood film since the 1979 revolution, told AFP in an interview that the Iranian people were “suffering economically, politically and democratically.”
The United States said Thursday that Iranian authorities may have killed more than 1,000 people in a crackdown on demonstrations, after the government abruptly hiked fuel prices.
According to London-based human rights group Amnesty International, at least 208 people died in the protests that erupted on November 15.
“It’s a massacre, with hundreds of people dead,” Farahani said on the sidelines of the Marrakesh International Film Festival.
“I’ve learned not to dream when it comes to Iran. We cannot guess what will happen tomorrow.
“I didn’t expect the price of petrol to triple overnight. At the same time, I know that the people are suffering economically, politically and democratically. And when people suffer, it can explode quickly,” she said.
Iran has dismissed the high death tolls reported by foreign sources as “utter lies” and has so far confirmed only five dead — four security force personnel killed by “rioters” and one civilian.
Farahani — daughter of the acclaimed director Behzad Farahani — upset the Iranian authorities when she appeared in Ridley Scott’s spy thriller “Body of Lies” in 2008 alongside Leonardo DiCaprio.
She went into exile, first in the United States and then in France where she now lives.
“I realized that I preferred being in Europe, in the middle of the world,” she said.
“Being in exile is like being in an ocean. Your only choice is to swim or you’ll die.”
Farahani said she cannot return to Iran.
“Because of my films, because I’m a woman, for not wearing the veil,” she said.
“Everything I did when I left Iran became like a political act, when it was not the case,” she added.
“I wasn’t a politician or an activist. I was just an actress. A female actress. If I were a man I would have taken a different path.”