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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Who I am

I am Ebrahim Barzegar, 33 years old. I graduated in English Literature from Alborz University in Mohammadiyeh, Qazvin. Literature pumps new blood into my life, so I further my education and received my M.A. in English Literature from Guilan University, Iran. During all these years, I have been working as an English Instructor in different English Institute in Tehran. Literature opens the doors to other arts for me, especially cinema. I fell in love with images talking hundred works. As a result, I decided to do my thesis on literature and cinema. The mysterious world of David Lynch attracted me so much that finally I did my research on his films. After graduation, I continued my reading and writing on literature and cinema. I have been writing different articles on literature and cinema for the last five years.

Ebrahimbarzegar

But, in 2015, I developed a new adventure, travelling throughout Iran. Literature and cinema took me through the world, now it was time to experience it from a close range. I started to discover Iran tourist attractions and read as much as possible to get authentic information. Then I enrolled in Tour Guide courses in tourism and fortunately after passing a series of exams, I received my official Tour Guide Certificate authenticated by Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization of Iran.

I launched my own website to share my ideas with literature lovers and movie buffs in relation to Iran Travel. And since I am deeply passionate about Literature and Cinema, I start to organize Persian Literature Tour, Iranian Cinema Tour, and Iran Sufism Tour in Iran. Mount Damavand Trekking Tour is my forte because I am originally from Nandal Village next to Mount Damavand, the highest mountain in the Middle East which plays an important role in Persian Mythology and history.     

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A Gift from Ingmar Bergman to David Lynch: Troubled Psyches

Twin Peaks

If one could choose a major recurrent theme in Ingmar Bergman’s film, that would be, undoubtedly, a troubled psyche. Bergman has been exploring the human psyche from the very beginning of his film career which lasted for nearly six decades. His mastery over probing the deep layers of human’s soul has greatly influenced the American filmmakers, particularly David Lynch. 

David Lynch has repeatedly acknowledged Bergman as one of his favorite filmmakers of all time; however, it seems it is more than that. Being known for his weird, eerie dreamlike films, Lynch, too, shows an immense enthusiasm in digging up the soul and mind of his fictional characters. Of course, this soul reaching is rooted in his what he figuratively calls is fish catching, “Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.” Lynch, similar to Bergman, attempts to push his bottom where repressed desires and malicious darkness lie. Therefore, reading Lynch through a Bergmanesque filter will contribute to an expanded understanding of Lynch’s aesthetics and visual and thematic proximity of these two great filmmakers.

Bergman’s influence upon Lynch is so substantial and profound that one could claim that Lynch is the surrogate figure of Bergman in American cinema, but much darker and more sinister. Exploring the disquieting side of psyche of both his characters and their dwelling town, Lynch attempts to show the hidden layers of American life, borrowing Roland Bathes’ idea of demystification, he demystifies the American dream and reveals its hideous and dreadful spirit. 

Mulholland Drive could be taken as a greatest reverence of Lynch towards Bergman. There are several similarities between Mulholland Drive and Persona.   Persona is a psychological drama revolving around the relationship between two women, Elizabeth Vogler and Alma. The former is a successful actress who is hospitalized for a nervous breakdown with symptoms of “muteness and a near catatonic lassitude” and the latter is the pretty young nurse who is in charge of her care. These two characters through some mysterious process exchange identities. The issue of identity crisis and transformation also echo in Mulholland Drive, an amnesiac brunette (Laura Harring) and an aspirational blonde (Naomi Watts) with shifting identities. Bergman displayed the mysterious identities of his characters in two ways. The first is through the mirror exercise where the initiator and responding character is almost impossible to pin down and the second one is the metamorphosis, a process of transformation of the characters. The idea of flux identity is similarly expressed in Lynch’s film. The wounded and traumatized brunette who is unable to remember anything including her name _ after taking shower she picked up a name, Rita, from the poster of Rita Hayworth on the bathroom wall through the mirror shot. Later in the film, Betty put on a blonde wig on Rita’s head in front of the bathroom’s mirror and then said “You look like someone else”. It seems that Betty perpetually provides identity for Rita and she passively adopts it. The question of identity reaches its climax after the lovemaking of Rita and Betty in bed. It’s where Lynch imitates what Bergman did in Persona: merging the faces of the two female characters in one shot. Unification of the faces of characters in these two films is considered a really important turning point of narratives.

After Rita and Betty visual and physical coupling, they enter into a mysterious club known as “Club Silencio” where the Magician performs on stage. The show is all an illusion, La Grande Illusion ever! The world where living, Betty, and the dead, Rita, are so close to each there that is impossible to distinguish which is which. Betty’s trembling in the club is an exact echo of what the magician, Albert Emanuel Vogler played by Max von Sydow, did in The Magician (1958), “He calls you down, he calls you forth, beyond the dead, the living, the living dead.”  Rita, Betty and the Club Silencio are the precise reflection of these concept, respectively.

Surrealism of Mulholland Drive could be traced back to the weird visual and narrative composition of Hour of the Wolf (1968). Mulholland Drive could be separated into two parts: Betty’s dream and after her waking up. So does the Hour of Wolf. The first part is quite realistic, whereas the second part is filled with surrealism qualities which is the reflection of the disturbed psyche of the protagonist.   Painter Johan Borg (von Sydow) is haunted by demons and images of his former lover, Veronica Vogler (Ingrid Thulin). Parallel plot could be found in Lynch’s film and narrative. Betty is an artist like the Johan Borg and her life is haunted by her former lover, Rita, who left her to joined the young director, Adam Kesher (Played by Justin Theroux). Projection of demons and wild beasts in Hour of the Wolf corresponds with the weird characters of Lynch’s film such as the dead man behind the café which through the technique of surrealism could be best pieced together. Given these facts, Lynch is the heir to the psychic world of the Bergman ’worldview in America. The green light of the American dream which beckoned J. Gatsby is now turned into a green-eyed troubled spirit feeding upon itself and its surrounding world. Betty, the broken doll of dream factory of Hollywood, encounters the rotten soul of Hollywood and by her own volition she walks beside it, hire a hitman to kill her ex-lover and in the end, commits suicide herself. While the troubled psyche of Bergman’s characters is the result of lack of spirituality and faith, the characters of Lynch’s films are not related to any spiritual metaphysics, in a sense they are the victims of the larger rotten dream, a dream that in the end reveals itself to be nothing but a dreadful nightmare.   

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