Movie Review: Sony Pictures Classics' Capernaum

Release Date: 2/01
Director: Nadine Labaki
Writers: Nadine Labaki (screenplay), Jihad Hojeily (screenwriter), Michelle Keserwany (screenwriter)
Stars: Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some drug material
Runtime: 119 mins
While serving a five-year sentence for a violent crime, a 12-year-old boy sues his parents for neglect.

Capernaum is Lebanon’s entry in Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film category this year. The film is in Arabic, with English subtitles. Set throughout Lebanon, with many scenes taking place in Beirut, Capernaum may be the most haunting film you see all year.  Ghosts and goblins are nothing compared to witnessing man’s indifference to the suffering of man, depicted in Capernaum.  Worse still, that the victims of that indifference are children, makes it so that viewers will be thinking about this story long after the house lights come up in the theater.

Don’t be discouraged from seeing Capernaum by anything written above.  Yes, it is gripping and the despair of the landscape, literally and figuratively, is bleak, but Capernaum is ultimately a story of hope.  Further, that story of hope is brilliantly told by Director Nadine Labaki using a cast of non-actors, and actual refugees. Zain Al Rafeea (as Zain), Yordanos Shiferaw (as Rahil) and, even, little Boluwatife Bankole (as Yonas) are entirely captivating in roles that reflect the trials and tribulations of their own lives. The performances feel effortless and sincere. 

The camera work added a dimension of connectivity to the story.  The cameras conveyed parts of the story that the first-time actors did not convey.  Tight shots highlighted the dirt on the faces of the children, as well as every helpless expression.  Overhead drone cameras captured he vastness of the landscape in which Zain was endeavoring to thrive.  The alternating too close or too far shots of the scenes gave the audience necessary perspective.  Capernaum is a story of three “throw-away” souls, but why are there throw-away souls? There are many more similarly situated and the film seeks to have the audience understand the severity of the issues presented.

The themes of Capernaum are very timely. Touching on issues such as narcotics trafficking, parenting, immigration, degradation of women, Capernaum weaves a tapestry of realism from which its hard to look away.  Parts of it felt heavy-handed, but any optimism would have felt fake. Best of all, Capernaum skips political rhetoric. 

Go see Capernaum.  Travel, through the screen, to a place you’ve never been to and a reality much different than your own.  See the world through the eyes of the children in the film. It will give any viewer something to think about.  Capernaum is playing everywhere now.

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