Rebel with­out a chance

Com­pas­sion and skill of di­rec­tor bring child in a mer­ci­less city to life ★★★★

StarMetro Halifax - - DAILY LIFE - Peter How­ell MOVIE CRITIC

Caper­naum is an ab­so­lute heart­breaker about chil­dren in peril and the plight of un­doc­u­mented peo­ple. This late-ar­riv­ing 2018 film also makes for the first must-see movie of 2019.

The Grand Jury Prize win­ner at Cannes 2018 and a likely nom­i­nee for Best For­eign Lan­guage Fea­ture at the Feb. 24 Os­cars, this starkly hu­mane drama rep­re­sents bravura film­mak­ing by di­rec­tor/ co-writer Na­dine Labaki. She’s the Le­banese film­maker whose Where Do We Go Now? won TIFF’S Peo­ple’s Choice Award in 2011. Fea­tur­ing a cast of mostly non-pro­fes­sional ac­tors, Caper­naum is ti­tled for the bib­li­cal town where Je­sus Christ is said to have per­formed mir­a­cles. The word also mean “chaos” in some trans­la­tions of the screen­play, which is in Ara­bic and Amharic with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles.

The film fol­lows the street­wise and in­creas­ingly dar­ing ex­ploits of 12-year-old Zain, played by Syr­ian refugee Zain Al Rafeea. With tou­sled hair and big brown eyes both sad and de­fi­ant, he has a face out of Ital­ian neo-re­al­ism and the heart of a lion.

Bereft of proper parental care and a run­away from in­tol­er­a­ble fam­ily cir­cum­stances, Zain strug­gles for free­dom and life on the streets of Beirut. He’s watch­ing over a tod­dler named Yonas (Boluwat­ife Trea­sure Bankole), son of il­le­gal im­mi­grant Rahil (Yor­danos Shiferaw), an Ethiopian refugee whom Zain has be­friended. Rahil works as a cleaner us­ing ID she pur­chased il­le­gally, hid­ing her iden­tity and also her baby as she seeks to avoid de­por­ta­tion to her home­land.

Zain is also try­ing to pro­tect his younger sis­ter, Sa­har (Ce­dra Izam), one of sev­eral sib­lings crowded into filthy ac­com­mo­da­tion that could hardly be called “home.” Sa­har has been sold by her par­ents to a man twice her age, in what amounts to mar­riage slav­ery, so they can pay off a debt and re­main in their apart­ment.

Caper­naum is book­ended by court­room and prison ap­pear­ances by Zain, who has been con­victed of a vi­o­lent crime. He’s back in court on the im­prob­a­ble grounds of seek­ing to sue his drug-ped­dling par­ents, Se­lim and Souad (Fadi Yousef and Kawsar Al Had­dad).

CHRISTO­PHER AOUN/SONY PIC­TURES CLAS­SICS

Zain Al Rafeea, left, and Ce­dra Izam play brother and sis­ter in Caper­naum, a likely Os­car nom­i­nee for Best For­eign Lan­guage Fea­ture.

TIFF

Zain Al Rafeea, right, and Boluwat­ife Trea­sure Bankole in Caper­naum, the Grand Jury Prize win­ner at Cannes 2018.

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