Capharnaüm (2018)

Capharnaüm (aka Capernaum; Chaos)
Director: Nadine Labaki
Writer: Nadine Labaki, Jihad Hojeily, Michelle Keserwany
Cast: Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole, Kawsar Al Haddad, Fadi Yousef, Cedra Izzam, Alaa Chouchnieh, Elias Khoury
Seen on: 18.1.2019

Content Note: sexualized violence, child abuse

Zain (Zain al Rafeea) is only 12 years old when he sues his parents – for giving life to him. Looking back on his short life, he finds that it was deeply negligent of them to bring him into this world where there were neither money nor ressources for him or his siblings. As the oldest, he was soon responsible for his siblings, but as a child himself he couldn’t actually do much – not even protect his sister Sahar (Cedra Izzam). And it only got worse from there.

Capernaum is a heavy film whose message seems to basically be that nothing is alright. If you manage to watch the film without feeling that the world deserves to burn down, congratulations – I couldn’t. And that is absolutely meant as a compliment.

The film poster showing Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) pulling Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole) on a makeshift trolley.

The only thing that didn’t work for me in this film was the framing narrative with Zain suing his parents. It seemed incredibly far-fetched to me that a suit would be so successful that he would ever see a judge to plead his case. And the film didn’t actually need that frame. Fortunately, it doesn’t spend much time with it, focusing on Zain’s life before the suit instead.

And that part of the film is fantastic in the most horrible way. It is touching and gruesome, managing to include pretty much everything that is wrong with the world without feeling overloaded.

Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) and Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole) sitting next to each other, looking sad and tired.

Al Rafeea is an excellent lead, it really is super impressive to watch him work his role. There is some light in the way he always cares for others. Additionally the film has some nicely excentric supporting characters that do give us some reprieve.

But for the most part, the film shows us despair and hardship. Nothing is alright in the world – and how come the people responsible don’t do anything about it? For Zain, it’s his parents. But of course they are just as trapped in this world, while the people in power just don’t care. It is frustrating and should make you want to scream and hopefully fight for change.

Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) leading a group of children, all carrying building supplies.

Summarizing: very heavy.

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