Capernaum is French for chaos, disorder, or hell. And this two-hour ordeal of a film is exactly that; A depiction of modern chaos, inflicted upon innocent children.
No one wishes to be neglected, yelled at, hurt, starved, abused, or failed at every turn of their existence. And still, that is exactly what millions of kids suffer through – in forgotten parts of cities, places where society has failed its citizens – and cursed its children.
Capernaum feels very much like a documentary. You get a sense that the camera follows individuals going about their business completely unaware of its existence. As a matter of fact, it’s almost unthinkable that Zain – the main character – at 12 years of age – in his first appearance on screen could possibly be this extraordinarily believable as an actor... And as it turns out, he is not.
Because Zain is Zain; a Syrian refugee brought up right in the midst of where the picture takes place.
- The place, is the slums of Beirut. Where filmmaker Nadine Labaki manages to illustrate a world many of us have never seen by filming children she discovered on the streets and backalleys. ‘Shot on location’ in this case, meant within actual prisons crammed with inmates on the fringe of society, inside dirty shacks where families sleep huddled up together on crowded floors, and on chaotic streets where drugs are sold and kids beg for food. There were no extras, no studio, and barely even a schedule to follow.
Frame after frame is filled with real people, many of them young - whom Nadine felt ‘acted’ most similar to the characters she needed to make us understand what their world is like. She filmed the kids over and over again, without handing them exact lines to remember, allowing them to use their own language and permitting the script to flow with its characters – those who had already faced the very disarray Nadine was eager to show.
Capernaum is a wildly impressive piece of art, but tough to watch. With children expressing that they are ‘worthless parasites’, comparing their lives to ‘shit under a shoe’, it is often tragic and dark. It is sad to think that kids could be this vulnerable and live so void of hope. And yet, the movie offers glimpses of hope and humanity as well, and it is defineltly worth a watch.