From its opening shots, Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum is wholly captivating. Visually arresting aerial views of street life in Beirut are set to Khaled Mouzanar’s compelling soundtrack, providing the backdrop for 120 minutes of painfully honest storytelling.
The film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, follows Zain, a streetwise 12-year-old-boy living in Beirut who is suing his parents for the “crime” of giving him life after he commits a violent act.
Fleeing this neglectful background, he begins a life on the crowded streets, travelling alone with nothing but his clothing and quick wits. It is through this journey that the film draws a portrait of society, shedding light on the everyday routines of ordinary people.
Tackling issues of child abuse, poverty, displacement and inequality, the film introduces Zain to characters that hold up a mirror to contemporary life – including Rahil, a single mother from Ethopia who is living and working illegally in Lebanon whilst raising her child.
The cast is largely comprised of non-actors whose backgrounds mirror the characters’ own; truth and fiction intertwine in way which elevates the film’s poignancy and sense of realism. Punctuated with moments of humour and tenderness, Capernaum is heartbreaking and defiant in equal measure. As the director notes: “That’s what’s going on in the world right now… it’s a mixture of chaos and miracles every day.”
A truthful, reflective and undeniably powerful piece of cinema, Capernaum is at once testament to the strength of the human spirit and a rallying cry, raising questions about the future.
Stills from Capernaum.