Director: Nadine Labaki
Watch Capernaum online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play / Sky Store
Every now and then, a film comes along that breaks your heart. Capernaum is one of them. Newcomer Zain Al Raffea is remarkable as Zain, a 12 year old who grows up on the streets of Beirut, after he flees his family. It sounds like a selfish act, but he’s far from it – and that’s just the start of the film’s heart-wrenching complexities and devastatingly torn sympathies.
Driven by a love for his sister, Sahar, Zain is a deeply altruistic child, a boy who helps his sister conceal her coming of age to prevent their parents marrying her off. When that goes awry, he’s pushed to the limit to keep himself alive, but only because he cares so much about someone else’s life. Along the way, he finds himself an unlikely friend in an Ethiopian maid who’s working illegally in the city – and, to a greater extent, in her young child, Yonas, whom he helps to raise. It’s a role he takes on with compassion and a steely determination, navigating deceitful market traders and legal authorities once again for the sake of someone else.
Nadine Labaki, who impressed with Caramel, does a sensational job of capturing life in the city, with its buzzing energy, cruel ambivalence and endless crowded roads – a vibrant but brutal chaos that is contrasted by quiet courtroom scenes that flash-forward to where Zain ends up. Throughout, Zain delivers an open and intimate performance that’s wholly convincing, with a documentary-like clout. As for his final destination, the reveal of why comes early, but hits hard, and the result is a masterfully told, hugely moving story about the impossibility of justice for those living in poverty without legal rights. If being born can be considered a crime, what hope is there for the rest of someone’s life?