A tough yet remarkable film from Lebanese director Nadine Labaki, Capernaum puts a young runaway in the spotlight at The London Film Festival
Where to start with this gut-wrenching film from Lebanese director Nadine Labaki?
Giving one of the best acting performances I’ve seen during this year’s #LFF experience, Zain Al Rafeea plays 12-year-old Zain, a lone son among a large family of daughters.
At least, we assume Zain is 12 – he has no official birth certificate as his parents failed to register his birth and can’t remember the exact day he arrived. It is a prison doctor who guesses at his age based on a medical examination. Just how Zain got to this situation is explored through the subsequent film.
The family’s accommodation is little more than a squat for his parents and siblings, the right to which he earns for the family by working at a local shop. He and his sisters sell juice on the street to bring money home; it’s not clear what his parents contribute to the household except more children. Zain seems particularly close to one of his sisters and when she is forced to leave home, Zain decides he must leave too, alone. His attempts to fend for himself bring him into contact with a range of characters, illegal or on the fringes of society. Some genuinely offer help, others are in it just for their own profit, and the small kindnesses which are exchanged along the way are magnified among the hardships which are endured.
As a portrait of resilience, it’s stunning – and then you remember that this should not be happening to a 12-year-old and why are some of these adults not intervening at all?
The young actor at the centre of the film is astounding, and praise must also go to the director for coaxing such a performance from him while navigating such a difficult narrative. Scenes with Zain and a baby are both a delight and chilling at the same time.
Capernaum is by no means an easy film to watch, but it is one of the most remarkable and challenging I’ve seen at LFF. With a final shot that steals your heart, it’s vying to be my top film of the festival.