The story of Zain, (Zain Al Rafeea), a 12-year-old Lebanese boy, is framed in court where he makes the stunning statement that he wants to sue his parents “for giving me life”. Zain is accused of stabbing a man. In flashbacks we see what was the life for young Zain. Living with his parents in the poorest section of Beirut, Zain is very aware of his precarious existence. Rather than go to school, he spends his time in the street running errands, some of them criminal, for his parents. To make money, his parents (Kawtar al Haddad and Fadi Kamel Youssef) sell clothes saturated with drugs to prisoners. Zain’s 11-year-old sister is sold in marriage to a man, despite Zain’s desperate attempts to save her. Having had enough, Zain runs away. He meets Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw), an illegal emigrant from Ethiopia who works as a cleaning woman. Zain goes to live with Rahil and her baby in a small shed. In exchange for the food and the roof, Zain becomes the baby sitter when Rahil has to go out. When Rahil is arrested, Zain has to care for the boy by himself. There’s a local merchant that proposes to buy the baby to give up for adoption, he says. But Zain knows better. Zain grows desperate to feed himself and the baby. This is a devastating portrait of children living in poverty. It is done in a most realistic way. Shaky camera, with a cast of non-professional actors. Zain Al Rafeea, a Syrian refugee who moved to Lebanon in 2012, is basically playing his own life. He is literally carrying the film on his shoulder. Capernaum is a call to action for the children of the world as well as a very good film. It is a hard film to watch, at times unbearable, but with a resiliency that is ultimately winning. Compelling!
And the nominees are… Any other year Capernaum a great choice for Best foreign language film. But this year there’s a phenomenon called Roma.
Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from February 8 – 18
Zain Al Rafeea
Boluwatife Treasure Bankolé
Kawtar al Haddad
Fadi Kamel Youssef
In Arabic and Amharic with English subtitles.