Capharnaüm (Capernaum)

Poster for Capharnaüm (Capernaum)

An incredible feat of storytelling, Capernaum showcases director Nadine Labaki’s (Caramel) singular vision through the unlikely story of a young boy attempting to sue his parents—for giving him life.

Set against the backdrop of the slums of Lebanon, the film centres on Zain (Zain Al Rafeea), approximately 12 years old—his parents do not know his age—and already hardened from years of survival. Failed at nearly every turn by his family, Zain and his younger sister, Sahar (Cedra Izam), must contend with a variety of dangers, one of which is their parents. After they sell Sahar to try and make ends meet, Zain runs away, and he encounters other kindred spirits trying to maintain a sense of self in incredibly desperate circumstances. When Zain is imprisoned for stabbing someone, he launches a lawsuit against his parents for bringing him into such a grim world.

Working with a cast of mostly non-professional actors, Labaki’s casting and direction draw out unforgettable performances. As young Zain, Al Rafeea is captivating; at once swaggering, jaded, and confrontational, he also exudes a depth of vulnerability, carefully obscured just below the surface. Telling an unusual story of a young boy’s search for identity among the tatters of familial and government infrastructures and unexpectedly interspersed with moments of warmth and humour, Capernaum will stay with you long after the credits roll.

“A social-realist blockbuster—fired by furious compassion and teeming with sorrow, yet strewn with diamond-shards of beauty, wit and hope.” (Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph)

“While this is unquestionably an issue film, it tackles its subject with intelligence and heart.” (Jay Weissberg, Variety)

“It’s quietly absorbing and fitfully shocking as we experience the sights, sounds and smells of the streets where a one-year-old child can wander around without anyone stopping to wonder why.” (Anna Smith, Time Out)