Directed by Nadine Labaki
From 22 February 2019
Reviewed by Colin Serjent
Capernaum takes its name from the biblical city condemned by Christ to hell. Modern day Beirut is almost a hell on earth. Most of the buildings you see are slums with endless noise and fumes emitted by the constant stream of traffic on the streets.
One critic described the film as misery porn. I would instead call it harrowing.
The lead character is a 12-year-old boy Zain (played by a real-life refugee Zain Al Rafeea), who is representative of the many thousands of street kids who try to exist in the Lebanese capital.
Director Nadine Labaki and cinematographer Christopher Aoun spent six months documenting these children in Beirut to be used in Capernaum and two years editing it. I am not sure why it took them so long to fulfill the latter. it is probable that the situation for the street kids and families has worsened in the past two years amid the squalor and chaos of the location.
A remarkable aspect about the film is that most of the cast had never acted before.
The opening scene depicts Zain trying to sue his parents for bringing him into the blighted world he lives in.
I found it extremely unlikely that such a young boy would be given permission to legally berate his parents in a court of law.
Even more extraordinary is that he was given time out of prison to make his court appearance while serving a sentence for stabbing someone.
Before committing this crime he had fled from his parents after they had sold off his 11-year-old sister, who Zain adored, to a local shop owner, who married her.
Such is the nature of anarchic Beirut that some of the actors during the making of the film were arrested for not having the appropriate paperwork to continue to live there.
On the same day I viewed this film I read a report about the plight of children in Syria, which is similar to that endured by those in Beirut. One comment made was that ‘There is no structure to their day and they are getting used to being idle and illiterate.’