Children punished for crimes of society

Zain Al Rafeea in Capernaum (IMDB)

Capernaum is a very serious film about contemporary Lebanon and, indeed, about any society where children are put at risk and brutalised. Source: ACOFB.

Capernaum was the winner of the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. It is the third feature by talented Lebanese director Nadine Labaki. This time her focus is on 12-year-old boy, Zain, played with some complexity by Zain Al Rafeea.

Zain is from a very large family, squatting as a favour in an uncomfortable apartment in Beirut, packed together during the night. His mother is angry and his father even angrier, treating the children brutally. Zain has a job in a shop (and is not above some shoplifting). The owner has his eyes on Zain’s younger sister, proposing an arranged marriage.

The screenplay moves back and forth in time, highlighting Zain in prison for young offenders, in court, charged with a physical attack on the shop owner, unrepentant and acknowledging he had attacked the "sonafabitch".

In the major flashback, Zain runs away from home, and encounters a sad clown on a bus and decides to stay in the town where he gets off, where he works at a large fair. He meets a woman from Ethiopia, Rahil. Rahil is introduced early in the film in a scene where a number of women are gathered and accused of not having documents to stay in Lebanon.

Rahil shelters Zain in her home, relying on him to look after her young baby as she goes to work. There are very tender and moving sequences with Zain and the baby but the film moves towards tragic consequences and Zain is imprisoned.

The film is not without hope. The young prisoners listen to a television program where an advocate for children’s rights suggests some children could sue their parents – and, we realise, that this is where we came in at the beginning of the film Zain declaring that he wants to sue his parents.

His parents appear at the trial, an indictment of their brutal behaviour, but also harsh criticism of the conditions which lead to this kind of abusive behaviour.

– Reviewed by Fr Peter Malone MSC, ACOFB

Capernaum: Starring Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Sheferaw, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole. Directed by Nadine Labaki. 120 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language).

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Capernaum (ACOFB)

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