Capernaum: Struggle for Hope

Capernaum Film Poster

Capernaum Film Poster

The Middle East has been struggling with wars for the past 60 years. Daily news on the Middle East particularly Lebanon is an inevitable fact. I am living kilometers away in Tehran, Iran. I am safe here, despite all the prejudice and political-oriented news broadcasted on Western TVs. However, I can’t suppress my anger for war and all the bloodshed and injustice inside and outside of my country.

Iran states television channels broadcast Arab refuges in Syria and Iraq. People are getting used to seeing these violent images which is a huge regret. Human being is getting to see another of his own kind losing his home or getting hurt or killed on daily basis. Was Nietzsche right when he cried out “God is Dead?” Because it seems the world is moving toward the dark valley. But, every now and then, one seems to seek a lightness and hope out of this miserable world. This time Nadine Labaki, the renown Lebanese actress orchestrated this optimistic perspective.

Nadine Labaki in her new film, Capernaum, delves into the lives of the miserable in ghettos of Lebanon and their struggle to survive. Arial shots of shantytown and children’s smoking and playing with plastic and wooden guns in a slow motion, as the gloomy music is on, is the entry of viewers into the world of Capernaum. An overview of the shabby streets filled with garbage and car tires on the roofs from the up looks like an earth with a small black holes. The camera zooms out and a district appears. All in a unicolor of khaki, without a single bright colors.

Philosophical Perspective of Capernaum

Zain El Hajj is shown on courtroom sentenced to five-year prison for stabbing which really surprised me. But, what came after, to be honest, was a real shock. He sued his parents for bringing him into the world!

Capernaum Quote

His question has a philosophical perspective. It questions the concept of the “choice” which a child, a human being, has no control over it. He didn’t ask for it and yet he is paying the tolls. A Heavy one. Isn’t it unfair? If parents can’t afford any things for their kids, why they are breeding so many? Zain asks for the great measure. Zain’s father, Selim, played by Fadi Kamel Youssef, revealed in the courtroom that his upbringing thought him that his children would support him when they grow up. This is what life is. This deep-rooted attitude is widespread in the entire Middle East. Parents in Iran has the same notion and expectation. One has always expected something for doing something. However, in the modern world, where life is getting hard and harder every day, parents shouldn’t have a second thought on having a baby?

Zain parenting Yonas in Capernaum
Zain parenting Yonas in Capernaum

As a subplot for Zain life, we see a mother fighting for life, too. Tigest Ailo (Playing by Yordanos Shiferaw) the illegal Ethiopian refugee in Lebanon has a huge difficulty with keeping his cute son under such a harsh circumstance.

Having impersonated herself as an Rahil, she works illegally in a restaurant to make ends meet. After leaving home, Zain met Tigest in restaurant in an amusement park. She keeps his baby in a women’s toilet to keep her job. Her house is nothing but a space walled with layers of tins. Zian, reluctantly, became her babysitter. He had no choice. Cut the long story short, police finally arrest her for carrying forged resident document and put her in the most notorious jail in Beirut, Roumieh Prison. A space which later on Zain joined as well. Zain stabbed his brother-in-law because of killing his beloved sister, Sahar, acted by Cedra Izam, after getting her pregnant. She was only eleven years old. She couldn’t bear a child at that age.

Never Lose Hope

Zain, despite his naivety, fights to the ends. While he was living at home, he was working hard. When he left home heartbroken, he took care of Rahil’s son, Yonas. Once he tempted to leave Yonas next to street, but his consciousness didn’t allow him. As the pressure became unbearable, and dreaming of travelling to Sweden got into his mind by Maysoun, a Syrian refugee (Played by young Farah Hasno) manipulated by Aspro (Alaa Chouchnieh), the forger of the documents, he finally succumbed. He sold Yonas to get the money for his travel to Sweden.

All in all, Zain’s struggle in this dark world is admirable. So does Nadine Labaki’s creation of this touching tale. The film is a real food for thought. I highly recommend it to film lovers and movie buffs.

Nadine Labaki Zain Al Rafeea Photo
Nadine Labaki Zain Al Rafeea Photo at Cannes Film Festival

One more thing. When I heard that Zain is now living in Norway and going to school like other kids, it became happy. I hope all kids would be able to have proper upbringing so we could have a better world.

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