Capernaum (Chaos) is Gut Wrenching

Left to right: Zain Al Rafeea as Zain and Cedra Izam as Sahar in Capernaum. Photo by Christopher Aoun, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

It doesn’t matter that Capernaum (Chaos) is a subtitled film because this film will have you in tears by the time that the credits finish rolling.

The film starts off with Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) suing his parents, Souad (Kawthar Al Haddad) and Selim (Fadi Kamel Youssef).  Zain does this even as he’s been serving a five-year prison sentence for stabbing someone.   It takes some backstory to eventually reach the point but we eventually learn that he stabbed his brother-in-law, Assadd (Nour el Husseini).  While Zain’s actions against Assadd are not acceptable, we’re understanding as to what led him to this point.  While there is some room for empathy in these actions, it still doesn’t make it right.

When Zain is asked by the judge (Elias Khoury) as to why he is suing, the child responds that it is because he was born.  Ouch.  Those words would make any parents be at a loss for words.  Not Zain’s.  When you see their behavior after he comes back home to look for his papers, you’ll know why they aren’t upset.  It’s their own damn fault for what he did anyway.  I get that some of this may be customary behavior but to me, it doesn’t make it less wrong.

Let me dive into the context and understandably, this gets into spoiler territory: Zain’s sister, Sahar (Cedra Izam), isn’t even a teenager and she’s married off to Assadd anyway.  Oh yeah, she dies as a result of being pregnant because their family doesn’t have any papers.

In the time following Zain’s runaway from home, he ends up at an amusement park where he meets Ethiopian refugee Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw).  With nowhere to go, Rahil takes him in to live with her and her son (Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole–a girl in real life).  When Rahil suddenly goes missing, Zain doesn’t only have to fend for himself but must take care of Yonas, too.  This is a lot to ask a young child!

Nadine Labaki has a fine grasp of the film’s direction.  Ladine draws on the experiences of neglected children in her newest feature.  It’s both heartbreaking and gut wrenching to watch at the same time.  To say these words about the Lebanese Oscar selection would certainly not be an understatement.  I don’t care what your cultural customs are.  No child on the face of this planet should have to undergo this sort of abuse.

The responsibility of carrying this film falls onto the shoulders of child actor Zain Al Rafeea.  This may be a lot to ask of the kid but he’s clearly up to the task.  Again, it doesn’t matter that the film is subtitled because we don’t need subtitles to understain pain.  We don’t need the subtitles to see how thin he is or the emotions on his face.

Capernaum (Chaos) has so much pain and anger that we can forgive Nadine Labaki for the fact that children can’t sue their parents in Lebanon.

DIRECTOR:  Nadine Labaki
SCREENWRITERS: Nadine Labaki, Jihad Hojaily, Michelle Keserwany, Georges Khabbaz, Khaled Mouzanar
CAST:  Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole, Kawthar Al Haddad, Fadi Kamel Youssef, Cedra Izam, Alaa Chouchnieh

Sony Pictures Classics opened Capernaum in select theaters on December 14, 2018.  A theatrical expansion will follow.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.