Nadine Labaki’s astonishing film about a Lebanese boy’s tragic way of life is a stunning piece of cinema.




Life in the Lebanon would appear, from the showing in Nadine Labaki’s film, not to be worth living. The writer-director paints an all too depressing picture of the daily existence of a worthless family, the parents of which show little or no love for their children. Living in a hovel in Beirut, in order to raise money they are quite prepared to sell their eleven-year-old daughter Sahar to an unscrupulous local shopkeeper, even though the girl is clearly pre-pubescent. Hardly ever a quiet life, the daily round comprises arguments and violence between the parents and their children, and in particular their young son Zain who is probably not yet a teenager. Zain’s parents are so appalling at caring for their offspring, they cannot even remember when he was born. A doctor examining the boy reckons he is about twelve.


After a protracted fight following the selling of his sister Sahar, to whom the boy is devoted, Zain runs away and tries to make his living on the streets, hustling for money in the best ways he can. He encounters Rahil, an illegal Ethiopian immigrant with a young baby boy, Yonas, in tow. Zain agrees to look after her baby while Rahil is at work, but when she doesn’t return, he is forced to care for the child. Perhaps recalling his parents’ indifference to their own children, he acts as both caring mother and father to baby Yonas.


When he eventually returns home, Zain decides to sue his parents for giving him a life which he despises. It’s a moving testament to the misery of living in the Middle East and the director brings an almost documentary approach to her material. The scenes of violence are all too real and very disturbing. Labaki evinces amazing performances from her talented cast, including Yordanos Shiferaw as the heart-breaking Rahil, Kawsar Al Haddad and Fadi Kamel Youzsef as Zain’s awful mother and father, and Boluwatife Treasure Bankole as the very photogenic baby Yonas. However, the most outstanding acting comes from Labaki’s young star Zain Al-Rafeea who gives a performance that is really beyond acting. It is so real you would think he is actually living this appalling existence himself. Serious-faced throughout the film with no trace of sentimentality, young Zain has every chance of becoming a great instinctive actor, if he is not one already. You will have a lump in your throat just looking at that tragic little face that speaks volumes… and the film’s last shot will bring tears to your eyes.


Original title: Capharnaṻm.




Cast: Zain Al-Rafeea, Yordanos Shieraw, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole, Kawsar Al Haddad, Fadi Kamel Yousef, Haita Cedra Izzam, Alaa Chuchnieh, Nadine Labaki, Elias Khoury.


Dir Nadine Labaki, Pro Michel Merkt and Khaled Mouzanar, Screenplay Nadine Labaki, Jhad Hojeily and Michelle Keserwany, Ph Christopher Aoun, Pro Des Hussein Baydoun, Ed Konstantin Bock and Laure Gardette, Music Khaled Mouzanar, Costumes Zeina Saab De Melero.


Blueprint Boo Pictures/Mooz Films/Les Films des Tournelles/Clandestino Films/Open City Films/Wild Bunch-Picturehouse Entertainment.
126 mins. Lebanon/USA/France. 2018. Rel: 22 February 2019. Cert. 15.