Director Nadine Labaki, also starring as the 12 year-old Zain’s lawyer, powerfully speaks up and on behalf of children’s rights with her fourth feature Capernaum. Picked up for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination and winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2018, Labaki’s Capernaum is an astonishing portrait of children in today’s unjust world of war crisis that arguably funds crime, corruption, misery and chaos. Easily compared to Ken Loach’s social drama Cathy Come Home (1966) and Alfonso Cuaron’s social sci-fi Children of Men (2006), Labaki’s Capernaum will be remembered for years to come as a symbol of the failure of our society.
Godard has been referencing children’s voices in his post-New Wave films (British Sounds (1969), Helas pour moi (1993), Film Socialisme (2010)) to highlight unjust social turns in our history. But Labaki nails it. Capernaum is not ‘heartbreaking’ as most press penned it down. It’s devastating. It paints both sides of the social coin. Firstly that of ‘blessing’ fertility, faithful to society’s good old norms, which means grow up, marry and have children. The other side is that of parental single responsibility. In other words love. First and foremost.
Fuelled by a cast of non-professional actors, adds to the naturalism of Labaki’s film. Young lead Zain al Rafeea’s explicable charisma as the Lebanese 12 year-old boy, who is sentenced to five years in jail for a serious crime, is joined by a moving Yordanos Shiferaw’s Rahil and Haita ‘Cedra’ Izzam’s Sahar, Zain’s sister. Their performances are defined by Christopher Aoun’s superb camera and Labaki’s watchful eye. But this is not something unexpected. Labaki has been in critics’ radar since her debuting Caramel (2007) and Capernaum is the answer to her staggering talent.
Following this year’s Academy Award nominations, Capernaum competes against an astonishing lineup for Best Foreign Language Film including Cuaron’s Roma and Hirokazu Koreeda’s Shoplifters. It will be a tough decision and hearing the truth from a 12 year-old kid could be a turn down. But there’s something remarkable about Labaki’s Capernaum, it sends out a message that most of us are far too terrified to admit. And as Jean-Luc Godard has remarked: “The truth comes from the mouths of babes”.
Capernaum is released in UK cinemas from 21 February 2019.