A review of the remarkable Lebanese film “Capernaum”

As well as being a town where Jesus performed miracles, Capernaum is the Arabic word for chaos and it is a kind of miracle that comes out of the chaos of a young boy’s life on the streets of Beirut in this remarkable work by Lebanese director Nadine Labaki. 

Twelve year old Zain (played by Zain Al Rafeea) dotes on his 11 year old sister but, when she is forced to become a child bride, his outrage against his parents is so great that he leaves home, only to find himself responsible for a one year old infant called Rahil, the son of an undocumented Ethiopean mother who suddenly disappears. At a time when immigrants are so much in the news, this work brings home powerfully how precarious and indeed dangerous is the predicament of so many of them.

Rafeea is a non-professional actor and Syrian refugee who gives an utterly astonishing performance as the lead character in this immensely moving story, while somehow the baby demonstrates a range of emotions. The film was nominated for Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture and, in any other year when it was not up against the magnificent Roma”, it might well have won.


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