Capernaum

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Nadine Labaki

Starring

Boluwatife Treasure Bankole Yordanos Shiferaw Zain Al Rafeea

Anticipation.

Labaki has one good film and one bad film in the bag. Which way will this go?

Enjoyment.

A decent performance from Zain Al Rafeea, but the film is hectoring, contrived and simplistic.

In Retrospect.

A very poor man’s Bicycle Thieves. Oh, the humanity!

A Lebanese pre-teener sues his parents for having him in Nadine Labaki’s tale of poverty and neglect.

Lebanese director Nadine Labaki made a considerable splash in 2007 with her charming ensemble debut, Caramel, set in a busy beauty salon, but then majorly struck out with her over-reaching and naively “political” 2011 follow-up, Where Do We Go Now?.

Her new film, Capernaum, attempts to claw back some of that lost faith, initially teasing a serious and outraged political drama about the problem of overburdened parents in developing countries, before doubling down on the chronic sentimentality of that misfiring second feature.

The film opens on sweary 12-year-old scamp Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) attempting to sue his parents for choosing to bring him into the world when they clearly had neither the intention nor the financial means to nurture him into adulthood. We then flash back to a chronicle of prolonged hardship in which Zain runs away from home in protest at the ill-treatment of his young sister who is, against her will, sold off for marriage to a man many years her senior.

The remainder of the film sees him becoming de facto protector of a defenceless baby after its mother goes missing due to a contrived attempt to secure an illegal passport. Labaki’s film is wearingly maudlin, milking a ‘won’t somebody think of the children?!’ line of aggressive moralising as it shows Zain descending deeper into a world of torment and danger. Every shot, every plot progression and line of dialogue is calibrated for maximum manipulation.

Supporting players are hastily painted as either good or evil, and the cack-handedly political call for laws to prevent parents having more children than they can handle is articulated with bullhorn-like shrillness. It’s a film which has no faith in the viewer to unpack messy nuance or draw a conclusion from objective drama. It’s like a feature-length charity appeal ad, only less fun.

Published 19 Feb 2019

Tags: Nadine Labaki

Anticipation.

Labaki has one good film and one bad film in the bag. Which way will this go?

Enjoyment.

A decent performance from Zain Al Rafeea, but the film is hectoring, contrived and simplistic.

In Retrospect.

A very poor man’s Bicycle Thieves. Oh, the humanity!

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