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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019

Film review: Capernaum is simply not to be missed, says Rashid Irani

A real-life Syrian refugee plays a boy so trapped by circumstance that he wishes he’d never been born. This is a film of, and for, our times.

movie-reviews Updated: Jun 20, 2019 14:37 IST
Rashid Irani
Rashid Irani
Hindustan Times
Zain Al Rafeea, 12 at the time of filming and 14 today, is astonishing in the lead role. In a personal happy ending, the actor has since settled in Norway, is going to school and learning to read and write.
Zain Al Rafeea, 12 at the time of filming and 14 today, is astonishing in the lead role. In a personal happy ending, the actor has since settled in Norway, is going to school and learning to read and write.
         
CAPERNAUM
  • Direction: Nadine Labaki
  • Actors: Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw
  • Rating: 4.5 / 5

Capernaum is that rare thing — a foreign language film accorded a mainstream release, in the original (with English subtitles). This one tells a moving tale that sees fact overlap with fiction as a real-life refugee plays a boy his own age, so desperately trapped by circumstance that he sues his parents for giving birth to him.

The film from Lebanon (a country not normally associated with cinema), directed by the celebrated Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki, won the Jury Prize at Cannes. The child actor in the lead role, the astonishingly talented Zain Al Rafeea, was a Syrian migrant working as a delivery boy in Beirut when he was spotted by Labaki. He is now settled in Norway, and is already winning international awards too.

Filmed on location, in the crowded tenements and labyrinthine streets of Beirut, Labaki’s film isn’t just realistic, it is an overlap of truth and make-believe that by its very existence is a comment on our times. 

The plot centres on a 12–year-old boy whose hardscrabble existence takes a tragic turn leading to a five-year jail term. Using the ongoing court proceedings to bookend the narrative, the achingly sad story also involves a lawsuit brought by the boy against his impoverished parents.

For a film rife with despair there are some unexpectedly lighthearted moments. But Capernaum is essentially a howl in the dark against social and government apathy.

It is not likely to have an extended run. See it before the screens revert to standard Hollywood fare.

First Published: Jun 20, 2019 14:37 IST