There has to be times, in all our lives, where we’ve considered suing our parents for one thing or another. For instance, TV doesn’t constitute being an actual bone fide baby sitter. Nor does having to trawl around a supermarket on a Saturday afternoon count as a family day out.
This impressive feature from Lebanese director Nadine Labaki however, takes the notion of taking your parents to court to a whole new level.
Standing in a Lebanese court, facing a judge, is young Zain (Zain Al Rafeea). The court has concluded through their assessments that he’s roughly 12 years of age; they can’t be accurate due to the fact that his parents failed to register him and he therefore has no official documentation.
The judge asks him why they are in court, and Zain replies that he wants to sue his parents for the terrible job they have done in raising him, and the rest of his siblings.
It’s at this point that his many trials and tribulations at such a young age are revealed; the episode at home that triggered him to leave, and the subsequent encounters on the streets of Beirut, that led him to not only fend for himself but for others just as vulnerable.
Although the premise is fairly comical, the execution is far from fun. Labaki’s film, which has faint echoes of De Sica’s 1848 classic Bicycle Thieves, finds a young boy having to survive on his wits in a vast, dangerous city.
The atmosphere may be bleak throughout, but Labaki litters her film with colourful characters, many of whom ooze a natural warmth and charm. And natural is most definitely the key here; it’s presented as more of an urban documentary than a work of fiction, with Labaki managing to make the audience feel as if they’re right in the thick of it.
The director’s real strength however, must be from getting such beautifully raw performances from her cast, none more so than from her young protagonist. Zain is truly mesmerising throughout, as the camera absorbs his plight on the streets, translating it into nothing short of pure heartbreak. It feels so real, that it wouldn’t be a shock if audiences were straight on their phones googling Lebanese adoption agencies with the hope of saving him.
And despite the fact that city life is positively grim, it still manages to be both beautifully shot and told.
It’s no surprise then that it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Picture at the Oscars. It’s just a real shame that a film (Roma) that was nominated for this category, and the more glamorous and attention-grabbing Best Picture, got the kind of endless publicity that other nominees in the foreign category would normally only dream of. Alfonso Cuarón is already quite established, sitting pretty as he does with his four Oscars, so a win for one of the less supported films in the Foreign Language category would have been life changing. Thanks Alf.
Capernaum will take you on a journey that may not necessarily be comfortable throughout, but one you certainly wouldn’t – nor shouldn’t - miss for the world.