The film tells the heart-wrenching story of a gutsy, 12-year-old street kid from the slums of Beirut. The boy is Zain El Hajj (Syrian refugee child actor Zain Al Rafee) who is infuriated by the grotesque indignity of his poverty stricken parents, who make money smuggling drugs into the prison where his elder brother is held.
To his deepening horror, Zain discovers that his parents are planning to sell his 11-year-old sister Sahar (Cedra Izzam) to their landlord’s son as a child bride. Zain runs away in a rage but is befriended by Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw), an Ethiopian refugee who works illegally as a cleaner. Rahil shelters Zain in return for him minding her baby son, Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole), while she works. When Rahil is picked up by police, Zain takes Yonas and returns to the streets.
The highest-grossing Arabic film and the highest-grossing Middle-Eastern film ever.
Zain is a defiant, sweary and violent boy, always shoving, punching and insulting people, especially his parents. Ultimately this behaviour is his downfall when his desire for justice leads to him being jailed for committing a violent crime. But because of that, Zain gets his day in court when he sues his parents for child neglect and for the ‘crime’ of giving him life.
“Capernaum” stems directly from real-life experiences witnessed in research by Nadine Labaki. Nothing is fantasised or imagined, and what we see are faithful records of her visits to deprived neighbourhoods, detention centres and juvenile prisons. The film is told in flashback, using her performers’ spontaneous reactions, as well as images that are stiff with heat and dust, through which we can almost taste the poverty.
The film reflects Labaki’s firm strong belief that cinema can and should effect social change, but it was only ever made because the producer, renowned Lebanese music composer Khaled Mouzanar, mortgaged his house to raise the money. Ironically, “Capernaum” then went on to become the highest-grossing Arabic film and the highest-grossing Middle-Eastern film ever.
Pretty good for a film that almost wasn’t made!
The film debuted at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where it received a 15-minute standing ovation. It later won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes along with 29 others at various other international festivals spanning 2018 and 2019. Pretty good for a film that almost wasn’t made!
You can book tickets for Capernaum at Perth Theatre here.
View the Small City Big Personality event listing for Capernaum here.
Read our article to find out more about Jill Moody and the Perth Film Society.
View the Capernaum trailer here:
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