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Capernaum Movie Review

Capernaum Review

By David Kempler

Quality Depressing Chaos

Lebanon’s submission for Best Foreign Film of 2018 is “Capernaum,” a drama written and directed by Nadine Labaki. It has already captured the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received a 15-minute standing ovation after its premiere. I certainly expected it to be a quality pic, and it did not disappoint. It will be a surprise if “Capernaum” doesn’t get a nomination for the upcoming Academy Awards.

The first scene is in a courtroom where we watch Zain (Zain Al Rafeeaa), a 12-year-old Syrian boy who is a refugee. The judge asks him “Why are you attacking your parents in court?” He answers with, “For giving me life!” It’s a staggering moment. From there we watch what has brought Zain to this place of despair, and of course it’s not pretty.

In a story littered with seemingly endlessly depressing events, the initial depressing part concerns Sahar (Cedra Izam), one of Zain’s sisters who shares their overcrowded living quarters. She is in danger of being sold into marriage by her parents to a much older shopkeeper. The tension at home becomes too much and Zain leaves his home. Now homeless, he takes up living in a nearby amusement park.


At his new home Zain meets Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw), an Ethiopian immigrant who also has an infant son. It’s the best home Zain has ever known even if it’s far from an ideal situation. It’s a glimmer of hope for him, but “Capernaum” isn’t about hope. It’s about desperation and how your surroundings can crush your spirit and your dreams.

We so often read about these types of conflicts and the resulting refugee crises, but here it’s all viewed through the eyes of one of its young victims. Zain Rafeea brings a genuineness to the role. It’s probably not a coincidence that he is a real-life child refugee. If you’re looking for an uplifting moment to raise your mood, skip this one. If you’re looking for a pretty solid peek into a different take on the ongoing immigrant crisis, this might be for you.

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