Capernaum is hard to describe in a few sentences. From being raw about situations to being humane at many points, the smile of the main character Zain at the very end of the movie was a deeply disturbing reality for me. The roughly two-hour long movie from Nadine Labaki achieves that result by excavating multiple issues and had almost every emotion a human being can go through and is easily a remarkable piece of cinema.
Zain is the eldest son in his family and among the many siblings he has, there is a special affection towards Sahar, one of his sisters. Sahar getting married unexpectedly causes a major problem in Zain’s life and how that event eventually becomes a reason for a life-changing scenario for Zain is what Capernaum all about.
Like most of the movies from this region, the identity crisis is ultimately the main agenda here. After watching Capernaum I was back to the reality where there was a protest against changing outdated religious beliefs and freedom of expression debate was happening over a school drama. I personally got so immersed in that harsh reality which Zain faced that I felt pity for the current world’s priority. Capernaum is a huge question mark for a good percentage of people who are very much in the luxury and comfort of having an identity for existence.
Nadine Labaki and her writers have clarity on what all things should be addressed and how it should be addressed. Zain has accused his parents of the crime he committed claiming their decision to give birth to him caused the entire problem. And that is actually a deep take on the political backdrop of that country. Labaki has made Zain a conventionally unlikeable yet realistically stubborn kid who asks really tough questions. The reality of Zain is such that we won’t have any issue of conviction listening to all those thoughts coming from a 12-year-old boy. A major portion of the movie is set in a space where Zain spends his time with a kid named Yonas who is the child of an Ethiopian illegal immigrant Rahil. The dynamic between them is so raw and humane that through funny bits and heart-wrenching decisions, these characters will sort of haunt you. Labaki’s unapologetic way of making these portions look brutal and authentic also makes the cinematic experience a unique one. The issues Capernaum touches upon are numerous. From child marriage, irresponsible parenting, the reality of such parents, the inhumane immigration policies, the reality of people living without an identity etc are getting weaved into the plot in a very seamless manner. The visual language of the movie is also quite heartening in many places.
Zain Al Rafeea is the boy who played the role of Zain in the movie and the kid is incredible. The roughness and maturity of the 12-year-old was not a typical one and yet this boy was able to deliver a performance that made the character look like a plausible character. Yordanos Shiferaw as Rahil was also great. The kindness and desperation shown by that character were portrayed beautifully by her. The incorrigible Boluwatife Treasure Bankole as Yonas is not just cute here. His cuteness is so endearing that when Yonas is shown suffering a bit, you will really feel bad for him.
I am viewing this from India where we sort of enjoy the liberty of having no trouble to prove our existence and we fight over laughably silly things. Movies like Capernaum will be a great eye-opener for those who seek sympathy and sentiments even for the lamest of struggles. The questions that Zain raise in the courtroom about him being this foul-mouthed boy with a bad reputation is in a way a question towards the external world to make them aware of the security they enjoy.