I want to make a complaint against my parents. Want adults to listen to me. I want adults who want to raise kids not to have any. What will I remember? Violence, insults or beatings, hit with chains, pipes, or a belt? The kindest words I heard were getting out of whore! Bug off, piece of garbage! Life is a chicken of shit. Not worth more than my shoe. I live in hell here. I burn like rotting meat. Life is a bitch. I thought we became good people, loved by all. But God wants you for us. He washed rather than we were washingrags for others. The child carrying carrying will be like I am.
Capernaum is a Lebanese drama that was filmed with some four million dollars and was a great success overnight, especially in China. The film won the jury award at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received a 15-minute standing ovation after its premiere. Among other things, he was in the competition for an Oscar in the foreign films category, where he lost to the film by Alfonso Quaron. At the head of the larger authoring team stands Nadine Labaki, a reputed Lebanese actress.
The script presents us with Zein, a Lebanese boy who, at the beginning of the film, sues his parents for having given birth to him and thus sentencing him to life in misery. After that, the shop goes back to the past and we see his daily struggle on the streets of Beirut, which includes caring for his family, physical labor, poverty and hunger. He has acquired street wisdom and no longer relies on his parents, and the plot arises when his sister is sold for marriage and Zein decides to flee. On this occasion he will meet Ethiopian migrant woman Rahil, who will give him refuge in exchange for caring for her son…
The boy who represents Zeina is a Syrian refugee who really lived in the poor settlements of Beirut. He contributed to the design of the film because he did not have to act while filming it. Other characters are also represented by a group of nonprofessionals whose lives match those they interpret. They did not work strictly according to the script, but in most scenes they spontaneously reacted with their own words and deeds, so the story was adapted to them, not the other way around. In order to present the real struggle of her subjects, the author shot over 500 hours of material, which was mounted in a film for two and a half hours.
I described Injarit's film Biutiful as a festival of cinnamon and agony, but he almost comes across as a Pixar cartoon when compared to this. Set in a world of extreme poverty, Zein went through so much in his short life that it would have been better for him to have never even been born. We do not know how old Zein is because his birth, as well as that of his siblings, has not been reported, so they do not exist before the institutions, and their very limited living space is increasingly diminished. We follow a routine of marginalized and rejected people who find themselves in a system full of inhumanity, where their lives are doomed to a lifetime of misery.
Alongside Zein, the almost equal character is Rahil, who works low-paying jobs to raise her one-year-old son. She tries to earn a forged residence permit, and with Zein creates a real symbiotic relationship – she offers him accommodation and food in exchange for keeping her son safe. Zein's resourcefulness, developed during his years on the streets, is now particularly pronounced, as he cheats and steals not only to save his life. All of this is presented almost as a documentary, so the realism and authenticity of the poor parts of Beirut are utterly devastating.
Almost every scene has a strong emotional intensity, and in the midst of these inhumane conditions flashes some poetic image full of unexpected tenderness and hope. Beyond the premise of a child suing his or her parents, we get a clear message that something needs to be done, but we do not get answers or suggestions on how to remedy these people – it is not important to understand the political or socio-economic causes of their poverty, but to state that is the life of many people in Beirut doomed to constant misery and fear. There is no doubt that there are good intentions behind it, but a two-hour staffing session in which pessimism almost constantly erupts and nihilism can easily be bordered on exploitation.
What made the biggest impression on me were Zein's eyes full of endless sadness, despair and powerlessness, from which life sucked out all the light. His childhood has been stolen, he has not been educated, he faces corruption and racism, and his parents are weak in almost every sense. However, as in the case of Uxbal from the film above, Zein is motivated not to surrender and to push forward, even when his fight does not produce the desired results. As the story progresses, so too does it become more and more physically and mentally exhausted, until the final epilogue that comes to him, but also to us, as a blessing. Today, Zein lives in Norway and recently starred in a movie The Eternals became part of the Marvel universe.
Capernaum is a very effective and compassionate melodrama that presents us with a deeply devastating look at people who deserve much more than life – in a chaotic world full of misery and despair, the authors manage to find little room for tenderness and hope.
my final rating: 9/10