Forget Best Foreign Film of the Year. This devastating movie from Lebanon should be named Best Picture of the Year.
Capernaum revolves around Zain (Zain Al Rafeea), who’s about 12 years old although even his parents aren’t exactly sure of his age and don’t have a birth certificate for him. They have so many children, and they live in such poverty, squalor and dysfunction, they just can’t keep track of everything – or everyone.
And, for that, Zain is suing them. The movie is loosely structured around a trial in which the boy, who’s already serving a prison sentence because he stabbed someone, is suing his parents for giving birth to him.
The trial itself is really the least of the film, though, as we are thrown into the life Zain and so many kids like him, are forced to live. Ladaki hits him with more than anyone can be expected to withstand, yet he is resilient and miraculously compassionate toward those he sees as deserving of it. Despite his anger and defiance and tough guy swagger, he is still a child and Ladaki never lets you forget that.
I don’t want to say anything more about the story but I will tell you why you need to get over its terrible title (it translates to “chaos” but I’m afraid people will stay away from a movie they can’t pronounce), grab some tissues and go see it.
The boy who plays Zain is not an actor. In fact, he and many of the others are real people director Nadine Labaki tapped to give this film an authenticity that will take your breath away. You will care deeply about what happens to these characters, and their faces will stay with you long after the credits roll. How she managed to get the performances she did from these young non-professionals is nothing short of astonishing.
This is truly a tour de force of filmmaking.
It’s no surprise that Capernaum was directed by a woman. Ladaki’s empathy and humanity are palpable, and you will sob your way through the scenes of neglect, abandonment, hopelessness.
All of us who attended the early screening of Capernaum walked out of the theater with tears still flowing, vowing never to complain about anything in our own lives again and discussing what we could do to help protect these children.
Capernaum may be the saddest movie I’ve ever seen but it’s also one of the most important.