CAPERNAUM – Rreview by Susan Wloszczyna

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Capernaum is part Oliver Twist, part Slumdog Millionaire, but with only a modicum of a fairy-tale ending. Much like last year’s The Florida Project, children pay a high price when their impoverished circumstances are the result of selfish adults who lead careless lives. The difference is that Zain (played by Zain Al Rafeea), the streetwise 12-year-old Lebanese boy who barely has room to sleep amongst his countless siblings, is playing a real-life version of himself.

While foul of mouth and sullen of disposition despite his urchin-like appearance, this kid has an innate ability to manipulate our emotions to an almost embarrassing degree because his reactions feel so raw and real. He has a bit of a savior complex, one that eventually lands him in prison, as he first devotes himself to preventing his morally hollow parents from selling his beloved 11-year-old sister to an adult male as a child bride.

When he fails, Zain goes off on his own and connects with an Ethiopian single mom and restaurant worker at an amusement park who gets taken away for lacking the right permit. Zain then is saddled with caring for the woman’s toddler son (adorable, of course) all by himself but his resourcefulness in doing so only goes so far.

There are moments of humor but mostly there is an aching sense of social collapse and chaos, where humans are simply chattel and their lives are cheap. Director Nadine Labaki has some disconnects in her narrative, given that her process relies on her actors basically playing versions of their selves, but don’t be surprised if you find your eyes moistening by the end.

EDITOR’S NOTE: CAPERNAUM is Awfj’s Movie of the Week for December 7, 2018

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a senior editor for the online awards site Gold Derby. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.