Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for March 19th, 2019

Capernaum *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 19th March, 2019

CapernaumCinema verité has always been one of my favourite genres — so realistic and true to life that one is totally drawn into the heart of the action, whether the film is a documentary or, as in the case of Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum, a fiction feature. From the opening shots of Capernaum, one is absorbed into the chaos of a poor, urban neighbourhood in Lebanon and the squalour and tensions of the lives of the marginalised and dispossessed living there. The central character of the film, a young boy called Zain (grippingly played by Zain Al Rafeea, his expression numbed by the debilitating hopelessness of his life) is at the bottom of the pile, neglected by his mother and knocked about by his father, but helping the family survive by selling home-made juice by the roadside with his siblings. When his 11-year-old favourite sister is married off against her will he snaps and runs away, finding a temporary new home with an illegal Ethiopian migrant worker and her infant son. The relationship between the two boys develops as a kind of coming-of-age for Zain as he finds himself more and more responsible for the little kid’s welfare. This situation also provides an opportunity for humour and the sweetest of moments (not least because tiny Boluwatife Treasure Bankole is an absolute natural; however did Labaki get him to do everything that he does?!), which relieves what is otherwise growing tension and a sense of imminent doom. Actually, one learns right near the beginning what violent act Zain will be driven to, so in a sense most of this justifiably lengthy movie is a story of what got him there. Even though there is a moment of light after all the darkness right at the end, one is left frozen in one’s seat as it closes, numbed by the power of it all. It is a truly great movie, worthy of all the accolades it has received.

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