Capharnaüm Is Out in Theaters and Here’s What We Think!
Nadine Labaki’s Oscar-nominated Capharnaüm has been making waves all around the world for the past year, and finally, as an audience, we get to see the result. The Lebanese drama was out in Egyptian cinemas last week, and after endless trials to lay my hands on a ticket, I finally did. And I’d have to say, no wonder why this movie gained so much international acclaim; it was definitely worth the wait!
So, without further ado, the film tells the story of Zain Al-Hajj, a little Lebanese kid who finds himself on the streets after running away from negligent abusive parents and a dreadful life at home. He then crosses paths with Rahil, an Ethiopian young woman working in Beirut without permits, running for her life as well as her baby boy’s, Yonas. But when Rahil gets caught, Zain ends up on the street once again, this time, caring for another human being, and ending up making some hard choices that will make events take an unexpected turn.
The storyline is in a flashback format; going back and forth to the courtroom where jailed Zain supposedly sues his own parents for bringing him to life. The court scene was the very first teaser for the film; I remember watching that, thinking to myself that this is going to be one hell of an emotional rollercoaster, and it was!
But while you probably think this is just another melodrama, Labaki will surely surprise you as she brings you a whole lot of laughter, as much as tears to your eyes. The drama wasn’t overdone at all, and that’s what I liked the most about the movie. Right when I thought everyone around me would be finishing up a box of tissues each; I’m not much of a crier myself, an emotional balance was achieved. I personally believe this all goes down to the well-written screenplay and the lengthy, probably improvised, scenes of Zain and Yonas, which Labaki aced at directing. On the other hand, Zain’s heart-wrenching relationship with his sister Sahar was the cherry on top of it all.
Khaled Mouzanar’s beautifully composed music also played a role in moving viewers’ emotions, however, not as much as the picture and the screenplay did. Nevertheless, the plot sometimes left me questioning it, like when Zain made this phone call to the TV show, how realistic is that? Putting such little details aside, what really made the film realistic was Zain himself. That amount of hatred, pain, violent attitude, and agony in his eyes weren’t out of nowhere. Zain Al-Rafeaa, starring as Zain, is actually a Syrian refugee who fled the war with his family when he was seven to settle in Lebanon.
Despite the film’s twists and turns, the real Zain managed to regain his childhood. He resettled with his family in Norway; now having a Norwegian passport, and most importantly, he’s going to school for the first time! From war to refugee to the red carpet, and finally, this! Truly magnificent how art can change one’s life!
Capharnaüm, that means chaos, speaks in the name of poverty, yet from a noncliché perspective, shedding light on aspects of a lot of children’s lives we may not know. From not knowing your own age nor having legal documents to child marriage and domestic abuse; those are all topics that have been raised before but Labaki surely tackled them differently.
One thing I truly admired about the film was that it did not overdo victimizing children like Zain. Yes, Zain fell victim for hunger, poverty, and his parents’ negligence, yet the film, biased towards a better life and future for kids like him, also displayed the case objectively. Other than his parents’ side of the story that was told in court, Zain being put in a situation where he had to take care of baby Yonas kind of put the 12-year-old in their shoes where he ended up making choices as awful as theirs. However, poverty is never an excuse and this was portrayed and reflected as Zain sued them not for what they’ve done but rather for bringing him to this dreadful life in the first place.
Other than Zain, the cast featured Kawthar Al-Haddad, Fadi Kamel Youssef, Yordanos Shiferaw, and even Nadine Labaki herself made a special appearance as Zain’s lawyer. The film is directed by Labaki, produced by husband Khaled Mouzanar and Michel Merkt, while the screenplay was co-written by Nadine Labaki, Jihad Hojaily, and Michelle Keserwany. The cinematography is courtesy of Christopher Aoun, while the editing was done by Konstantin Bock.
The film proudly premiered at Cannes Film Festival 2018, was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or and landed itself the Jury Prize. Besides global screenings and participating in numerous festivals, winning awards at a lot of them, Capharnaüm made it to 91st Academy Awards as it got nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film award, making Labaki the very first female Arab filmmaker to make it this far.
The film is out in movie theaters in Lebanon, Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Syria, Iraq, Oman, and Jordan. Watch the trailer below: