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TIFF 2018 Review: “Capernaum” (2018) ★★★★★


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Life is an amusing thing, and for some it may appear like a toy. Just see how many families are out there that want to have children, but cannot. And how many are out there that can have as many children as they can, but do nothing for the safety of their children and even fail to provide the most basic care? Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum” raises one important concern which, I must say, is so true, so painful and so heartbreaking that it is the only way to solve the problem.

Zain is a twelve year old boy whose intelligence and experience of life is much higher than what most adults have. He does his best to protect his eleven year old sister, Sahar, from being sold to a much older man who can’t wait to marry such a young girl. In fact, Zain has already lost another sister. But when, at some point he finds himself fed up with everything – with the injustice of the society, inability to protect the most vulnerable children and how poverty eats them from within, Zain approaches court with one single demand – “I want to sue my parents.”. When the judge asks him why, the boy says, “for bringing me to this life.”

Led by the absolutely powerful and award deserving performance by Zain Al Rafeea, the film begins exploring Zain’s struggle through his eyes. His parents could not be more careless. They are ignorant, unindicted criminals who smuggle drugs through their elder son, who’s serving his sentence in jail.  But when we find Zain in the beginning, he was already arrested and sentenced to five years in juvenile facility. One of the most heartbreaking scenes was when Zain notices Sahar’s blood, quickly figuring out that it was her menstrual cycle that just got started for the very first time. Knowing that this may lead to her being sold to an already awaiting candidate for marriage, he takes her home, cleans her up and offers her his own t-shirt to cover the blood. Now the question is, how much at his age can a boy know about life? But trust me that he does and much more than what his tiny shoulders could carry.

“Capernaum” is a film I was personally expecting to be made from a very long time. In fact I did not even know this might even happen in my lifetime. Movies like this bring us back to a scene which, I am sure, many of us would’ve have witnessed where little children are used for begging on the streets or infants would be drugged heavily with the alleged mother holding the infant in her arms so that more pedestrians give their money away. “Capernaum” is almost like a tribute dedicated to every single child who’s being used by their parents for whatever reason – for money drugs, prostitution etcetera. And they will be right to have one simple demand – if you can’t look after us, don’t give birth. Do a favor and not break another life.

That said, will this message reach out to its target recipient? I don’t know. But one thing you should know by now is to be prepared for the most unsettling and hurting experience – a life we are lucky enough to never live, while many others continue still.

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