Nadine Labaki’s ‘Capernaum’ looks at a life of a twelve year old boy in modern day Beirut. When we first see him, he is handcuffed and in court, for he has sued his parents. For what? For bringing him into the world. And then through the course of the film, we see the heartbreak of the life that he is living – in extreme poverty. He initially took care of his sister, who we see has been sold, at eleven years old, to be the bride of a man. (We learn later that she perishes in the hands of same man) Zain, (played by Zain Al Rafeea) escapes and starts to live with a woman, Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw) and her infant, and he becomes the caretaker of the child while she is at work. That is, until she gets apprehended for being an illegal worker. Labaki creates this chaotic world for Zain wherein the pain gets escalated at each turn, but the boy is resilient, is street smart, and as played magnificently by Al Rafeea, is a wounded strong heart that keeps on beating even after repeated lashings. You cannot help but be caught in his plight, and I found myself wincing and closing my eyes a couple of times. I don’t know if I could take what he has to go through. The film is hyper, always moving, and involving.
But as an experience, I hated it. I don’t know if I could bear films like these anymore, with poverty porn front and center. In my older age, I have become more idealistic, and there are times I would like to think stories like these don’t exist anymore, but obviously, they do, and there are probably more and more each day. It’s an imperfect world we live in, and films like these show realism. The characters here do get some light and redemption in the end, but as for me, I am scarred.