Capernaum: a Lesson of Survival in a World of Chaos

“I want to sue my parents for giving birth to me,” Zain, a 12-year-old boy says to the judge in the movie Capernaum. Zain has so much anger towards his parents for bringing him to a world of neglect and misery.

Capernaum is a portrayal of a society of poverty, hunger, and kids living with no legal documentation. Zain lives in a house with uneducated parents, and his siblings. From a young age, he turned to the streets with his siblings to sell items for cheap. Zain was very protective over his sister, Sahar, who is forced to get married to an older man as soon as she reaches puberty. After her marriage, Zain leaves the house in search for a job. He later finds Raheel, an Ethiopian woman who works at a restaurant, and has a baby. Zain lives with her and takes care of her son while she is away at work. Raheel later is sent to jail because she has no legal documents, leaving her son in the care of Zain. When he goes back home to ask his parents for his papers, he finds out that his sister, Sahar, is at the hospital. He gets angry, and impulsively stabs his brother in law.  

Capernaum was directed by Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki. The movie premiered at the Cannes film festival where it won the Jury Prize in 2018. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Labaki is the first Arab female filmmaker to ever be nominated for an Oscar.

Labaki is also an actress and in Capernaum, she played the role of Zain’s lawyer. She was the director and main actress of other famous films such as Caramel, and Where do We Go Now?

Capernaum is historically the name of a village on the Sea of Galilee that became known for having fallen into a state of disorder and chaos, and that seems to be the reason why Labaki chose it as the title of her movie.

In Capernaum, Labaki wanted to portray the hardships that poor people face around the world. “It is a universal story for me because we’re not only talking about kids in Lebanon, we’re talking about kids not receiving their most fundamental right,” she told The New York Times.

The entire cast of the film had no prior experience in acting, and most of them were actually portraying their real lives in the movie. Zain is the name of the main character, as well as his name in real life — Zain Al Rafeea. He is a Syrian boy who fled to Lebanon with his parents in 2012 due to the war raging in his country. Zain’s situation in the film was similar to his real life; he never went to school, and didn’t have a stable home. After the film, he obtained the Norwegian passport.

“As a Lebanese, it portrayed a true message of what’s happening in the country in terms of refugees and foreign workers. I also believe that this film touched the hearts of many people,” Mira Matar, 20, a journalism student at AUD, told the MBRSC Post.

“The message I took from it is that you should be independent and fight for your human rights whether you’re 10 or 30 years’ old,” Ghina Atallah, a business student at AUD, told the MBRSC Post.

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Joyce Hussein Mansour

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