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“Capernaum” Oscar Nominated



Review by John Delia

A good choice as one of the five nominated films  for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, Capernaum, comes to theaters this Friday well before Oscar night. It’s definitely worthy of a win, but the competition is very stiff with other titles having already run the gamut for a Golden Globe. But, this film is very special with a lot of heart and involves the strife the middle-east has been experiencing. Released in the USA in its native language of Arabic with some Amharic and other mid-east dialects, the movie depicts the determination, defiance and struggle of one boy who represents a part of the downtrodden lifestyle in a challenging nation.

The film opens in a courtroom with young Zain (Zain al-Rafeea) on trial for stabbing someone. He’s an obstinate person who you will see has been treated badly. Also in the courtroom are his mother Souad (Kawsar Al Haddad) and his father Selim (Fadi Yousef) that are there at the demand of the court. Zain tells the Judge he’s suing his parents for birthing him. With that Zain recounts his story in flashback that eventually leads the audience back to the courtroom.

Zain Al Rafeea as Zain
Photo by Christopher Aoun, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Director and Co-Screenwriter Nadine Labaki puts the film into the hands of the viewer making them judge and jury as we watch Zain work his way from being a quarrelsome 12-year-old to a man in a relatively short period of time. The maze she builds for Zain of never ending walls, ultimately turns his world upside down. She uses some excellent dialogue at first making you feel Zain is just another ruffian, then a protector and finally a victim of the absurd system of laws, customs, poverty, family needs and his own failures. Her characters are very real and as big as life as we meet each one of the players during his heartbreaking journey.

Yordanos Shiferaw as Rahil
Photo by Fares Sokhon, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

What makes the whole film work however is Labaki’s character Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw). During Zain’s downward spiral he meets Rahil who lives in the city working two jobs to help her feed her less than a year old child and provide a small room for shelter. She take him in and he does chores for her. However, Rahil has had a fake citizenship papers so she can live in Lebanon, but they have expired. It puts her in the position of seeking out the brutal counterfeiter Aspro (Alaa Chouchnieh) in hopes he will not force her to do things against her will. It’s a very sad portion of the film that makes your heart break as the two characters find themselves in a role reversal situation.

Zain Al Rafeea as Zain
Photo by Christopher Aoun, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The acting here, especially Zain al-Rafeea who is magnificent as the young boy coming of age. He embodies the conflict that children face in a world gone sour. It’s tough enough acting at locations that have been bombed due to the conflicts between nations that are going on in real life, but dealing with it every day and acting twelve hours a day, certainly makes him a cut above.

Capernum has been rated R by the MPAA for language and some drug material. There are also a scene of violence, sexual suggestions, and drug use. The film opens this weekend at local theaters. Check your local listings for a theater near you.

FINAL ANALYSIS: Definitely a good choice for and Oscar. (4 out of 5 Stars)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Zain al-Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole, Kawsar Al Haddad, Fadi Yousef, Haita ‘Cedra’ Izzam, Alaa Chouchnieh, Nour El Husseini,
Directed and co-written by: Nadine Labaki
Genre: Drama, Foreign (Lebanon- in Arabic and Amharic with English Subtitles)
MPAA Rating: R for language and some drug material
Running Time: 2 hrs. 6 min.
Opening Date: February 1, 2019
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Released in: Standard (with subtitles)

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