You’ve probably heard of Capernaum. Nadine Labaki’s film was a huge success when it came out in 2018; it won many awards and got the public’s and critics’ attention. The production budget of Capernaum was $4 million, while the film grossed more than $68 million worldwide. It is the highest-grossing Arabic film and the highest-grossing Southwest Asian film of all time.
This Lebanese drama shows us the story of Zain, a 12-year-old boy living in the slums of Beirut with his family. The film focuses on Zain, his life, his anger, and his struggles taking care of a baby to whom he is not even related, as well as everything he has to face until the last moment where we see him in court, suing his parents for neglect.
Nadine Labaki brings a very unique story to the big screen, a story so raw and heartbreaking that no other but these child actors could portray the best. In an interview for The Guardian, the director revealed that her team found Zain Al Rafeea, who plays Zain, in a street casting. “He was a Syrian refugee, an angry child, but very wise. He didn’t go to school. He was very small because of malnutrition. He’s in Norway now with his family, and we’re making a documentary about that.” – said Labaki. The Capernaum director also said that in Lebanon, people are exposed to the sight of children suffering on a daily basis and that is where she got the idea to make this film: from asking the children she spoke to if they were happy to be alive, which most said no. One of them even told her: “I don’t know why I was born if no one is going to love me, if no one is going to kiss me before I go to sleep, if I’m going to be beaten up every day.”
Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers writes that through the camera staying eye-level with Zain, we watch a boy take to the mean streets of Lebanon in desperation. He describes the movie as an emotional powerhouse and highlights that the sorrow inherent in this tale would be unbearable without the film’s flashes of humor and performances by a cast of nonprofessionals that are moving beyond measure.
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian’s film critic, writes that there is passion and compassion in Capernaum, it brings home what poverty and desperation mean, and conversely what love and humanity mean. Bradshaw describes the movie perfectly with one simple sentence: “Capernaum is not a cry from the heart – but an angry shout.”
Personally, I loved this film. It had a way of pulling you in: with a heartfelt story, genuine characters and amazing visuals. It is impressive how much emotion these child actors can induce. No wonder, Capernaum was nominated and won so many awards; stories like this are hard to come by in modern cinema, and there should be more because, as Labaki herself said, “Cinema can affect social change”.