February 24th, 2019 / posted by paularath

Photo of Zain by Christopher Aoun for Sony Pictures Classics

This has been a good year for the movies. It didn’t start that way. There was seldom a movie I wanted to see until “Green Book” arrived, thanks to the Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF).

But during the past few months some wonderful foreign films have finally arrived in Honolulu Theaters. My favorite among them is “Capernaum,” and I will be on the edge of my TV chair tomorrow night, anxious to see if this superb piece of art wins “Best Foreign Film.” It so deserves to win!

“Capernaum” means chaos, and refers to the chaos of refugee life in the slums of Beirut, Lebanon. The story is about a 12-year-old boy named Zain  who is suing his parents for giving birth to him. He grew up as a non-existent, invisible child because he has no birth certificate or any papers to prove he’s alive. And his parents just keep having child after child, when they are unable to afford any of them.

In a broader sense, it’s about the millions of refugee children who have fled from Syria with their families and are living an injustice every day in the slums throughout the region. They are a lost generation of children.

The uber-talented director is a Lebanese woman named Nadine Labaki. She did not use a casting company, but rather scoured the slums of the city to find the actors for every role.

The lead is played by a Syrian refugee child named Zain who grew up in the appalling slums of Beirut in the same way his character did, working in the streets and never being allowed to attend school. Smart, sensitive and resilient, Zain’s is a story of survival of the fittest.

Labaki considers the movie a totally collaborative effort. She listened to everything Zain and other actors told her about life on the streets, and incorporated their real-life experiences into the script. “It’s my duty to show it,” she said of the often brutal images.

A warning: This movie can be really hard to take at times. Although he is 12, Zain is about the size of an eight-year-old due to malnutrition. His life is unspeakable, or rather unthinkable. The situations he finds himself in are heart-wrenching.

The good news is that the real-life Zain and his family have now achieved refugee status in northern Norway and Zain is going to school for the first time in his life. He also has a bed of his own for the first time. And he’s traveling the world to promote “Capernaum,” in a little black suit, bringing joy to everyone he meets.

Go see it. It’s still playing at the Kahala Theatres. And join me in rooting for this gem to walk away with an Oscar.

-Paula Rath

Leave a comment:
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.