Capernaum (2018) Analysis – Illustrates the “Power of Cinema.”


On 23rd February 2019, BBC News did a story titled “ Refugee boy stars in an Oscar-nominated film.” The film was titled “ Capernaum” and was already making waves at the international film festivals. Considering the appreciation received by the international film fraternity, OTT giant Netflix made an announcement on 18th June to release the film on its portal.

Nadine Labaki, the celebrated Lebanese director is known for creating intricate plots out of human adversaries, cobwebbed around the social and political atmosphere. This time she was adamant to work with people from the street rather than trained actors. She says that the incident, where a Syrian boy named Alan was found dead on the shores of Turkey, moved something in her core. It made her think about what would the boy say if he was alive. What would be his viewpoint of the world around him?

The thought lingered long enough that she decided to make a film that talks about the inflicted rather than the inflictor, the weak rather than the powerful, the sufferer rather than the perpetrator, the prey rather than the predator.

The word Capernaum means chaos and cacophony. Nadine Labaki builds a detailed and nuanced world encompassed by mayhem and bedlam. The protagonist Zain Al Rafeea, who plays the character Zain in the film was born in Syria and spent his childhood in the slums of Beirut. In the film, Zain sues his parents for giving him birth and seeks an order from the court to abstain from his parents from further having any children. The intensity of his angst derived from his ruined childhood pierces one’s heart that we can’t stop thinking about it.

The protagonist, though only 12 years shows an immense amount of maturity. One could tell by looking at those eyes that they have seen a lot in real life too. They have witnessed the savagery of the human race and have seen the legal and political institutions failing.

“I Want To Make A Complaint Against My Parents. I’d Want Adults To Listen To Me. I Want Adults Who Can’t Raise Kids Not To Have Any. What Will I Remember? Violence, Insults Or Beatings, Hit With Chains, Pipes, Or A Belt? The Kindest Words I Heard Were Get Out Son Of A Whore.”

The protagonist runs away from his family, when his sister, with whom he shared a strong bond, is married to a local businessman, who as favour lets the family live in one of his houses without rent. The sister named Sahar played by Cedra Izzam is only 11 years old and the protagonist is certain that she won’t be able to survive the inevitable sexual brutalities at such a young age. He knows that this might be the end of his beloved sister. Shattered and hopeless he runs away and finds shelter in the house of a compassionate illegal Ethiopian refugee Rahil played by Yordanos Shiferaw. She lives with her toddler son Yonas played by Boluwatife Treasure Bankole. Severing all the inhumanities, finally, he seeks justice in the court of law.

In Capernaum, you can see a lot of personal self of the actors in their performance. Their own instincts, sometimes made them diverge from the script, on which the director commented that she adapted the script accordingly rather than telling them to adhere to the script.

Khaled Mouzanar produced as well as composed the subtle background score for the film. He scraped off the whole background score when he went on the set and saw the actors perform. He said that what he had composed before coming on the set was not as a brute, raw, and erosive as the world created by the director. He wanted to compose something as local and as authentic as the performances of the actors.

Though the film got its share of respect when it won the prestigious Cannes Film Jury award but still remains one of the “lesser-known” films on Netflix. Maybe because it lacks styling and glamour (essential crowd-pulling elements) which buffoons people into thinking that they are witnessing something great.

When Nadine Labaki placed a video call to talk to Zain, to tell him that their film was selected as the official entry from Lebanon in Oscars, Zain opened the front camera, sitting in what seemed like a classroom. He was given refugee status in northern Norway after the shooting began.

For the first time in his life, he was attending school, for the first time, he was sleeping on a bed of his own and was eating three meals a day. And this I fondly refer to as “ the power of cinema.”

Capernaum is a Lebanese drama film directed by Nadine Labaki released in 2018. It is streaming on Netflix.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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