From Cannes: ‘Capharnaüm’ Is a Dickensian Tale of Childhood Poverty and Survival

Zain is a twelve year old prisoner serving five years for stabbing a “son of a bitch”. From jail he sues his parents for giving him life. We then see Zain’s story intercut with characters being called to defend themselves. It’s a harsh tale of poverty, neglect and abuse. Yet Zain’s extraordinary tale of survival never loses hope.

The highlight of the film is Zain Al Rafeea’s powerful performance as Zain. He is a little force of nature that storms through the narrative, ruling against the whole world that has let him down. He is also capable of a moving tenderness when he is made responsible for the care of a baby.

The film is a powerful condemnation of poverty. Affecting footage finds the young lead actors on the bustling streets; trodden on, hassled, heckled and even beaten. Nadine Labaki picks out the beautifully desolate landscapes of the city. The slums and the markets.

Yet the story has all the twists and turns of a Dickensian novel. Zain’s situation is constantly changing as potential saviours emerge and disappear. It’s hard for anyone to be a hero amongst such desperation, and nobody struggles with this more than Zain.

Capharnaüm is a powerful and compellingly entertaining film about a child’s journey to find freedom. It’s triumphantly poignant.

4.5 / 5

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