Nadine Labaki (Lebanon, 1974), formerly a director of music videos,
debuted with Caramel (2006), followed by
Where Do We Go Now? (2010).
is both a heart-wrenching melodrama and an angry indictment of society,
a fairy tale of ruined innocence and a religious allegory about a Saint Francis
of the gutters.
It alternates between the style of Italian neorealism of the 1950s,
notably Vittorio DeSica's Bicycle Thieves,
and more modern takes on the slum, such as
Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire and
Fernando Meirelles's City of God, but the empathy harks back to
Charlie Chaplin's The Kid.
Children are playing in the streets of the slum, using wooden guns.
A child is brought handcuffed to court. He has been already convicted of
stabbing a man and sentenced to five years in jail. But now he is suing his
parents because... he was born.
A flashback shows the poor family living in a tiny apartment. Many children
sleep in the same bed. Zain is the oldest, about 12 years old.
Zain is sent to various pharmacies with different excuses to get the ingredients
to make drugs.
His mother takes him to the prisons where they sell clothes soaked in
their home-made drugs.
Their apartment is horrible. It gets frequently flooded and the children
risk being electrocuted.
During the day Zain and his sister Sahar sell juices in the streets.
One day Zain notices blood on his sister's clothes and realizes that
she's having her first period. He hides the fact from her parents because
he knows of a girl who was immediately married to a man when that happened.
He washes her clothes and steals pads for her. He particularly fears that
his parents will "sell" Sahar to the shopowner Assaad, who likes Sahar,
despite the fact that she's only eleven.
Over dinner the mother tries in vain to convince her husband to let Zain
go to school. Zain seems to be the only one who earns money for the family.
He also works as a delivery boy for Assaad. One evening he finds Assaad
at home and understands that his parents are sealing Sahar's engagement with
Assaad. Furious, Zain gets into a fight with his mother, but in vain.
While the family is still asleep, Zain wakes up and starts packing Sahar's
clothes. He steals money from his parents, then steals from Assaad's shop,
and buys a ride from a truck driver. Back home he wakes up Sahar but his
mother understands what is going on. His father loads Sahar on his motorcycle
and takes off while Zain tries in vain to stop him. Back to the present in
the court, the father defends the decision to "sell" the daughter to Assaad:
otherwise she would have been miserable all her life. The flashback resumes:
Zain takes a bus where he meets a man dressed like spiderman who tells him
he is a cockroachman. He gets off at an amusement park and Zain follows him.
Zain sleeps in the amusement park. In the morning
he meets Rahil, a young Ethiopian woman who works as a cleaning maid.
Zain spends the day looking for a job but nobody hires him.
Rahil takes him home where Zain gains her trust taking care of her baby
Yonas. The following day she leaves the baby with Zain and this becomes
a routine. Rahil has her own problem: she needs to renew her fake permit
to work in Lebanon. The man who provided her the fake permit, Aspro, wants
a lot of money or... Yonas. Back in court, she testifies that Zain took care
of her baby like a brother. Rahil begs friends for money. Not even the father
of the baby, who is illegal like her, is willing to help. She sells her hair
but it is not enough. She calls her mom in Ethiopia and cries when her mom
asks her to send money. Then suddenly Rahil disappears. Zain walks around
carrying Yonas and looking for her. Days go by. Zain takes care of Yonas
but they have no food and no water. Zain inquires about Aspro. Aspro offers
again to buy Yonas. Unbeknownst to Zain, Rahil has been arrested for not
having a valid permit. She's in prison. Zain steals a milk bottle from
another baby. An exhausted Zain cannot carry the baby anymore, so he steals
a skateboard, sits a pot on eat, and sits Yonas inside the pot, and then
drags the skateboard with a rope. He befriend a homeless girl from Syria,
Maysoun, who tells him that Syrian refugees get free food. He shows up
at the camp pretending to be a Syrian refugees and gets milk for Yonas.
Maysoun has paid Aspro to be taken to Sweden. Zain wants to do the same
and Aspro again asks him to pay with Yonas. Zain and Yonas get a free shower
in a garage. A desperate Zain walks into a pharmacy and gets the ingredient
to make a drug which then he sells to addicts. He makes some money but
one day finds that Rahil's shack has been locked by the landlord, and all his
money is inside. Now they are homeless and penniless. Zain tries to abandon
Yonas in a street but nobody pays attention to the crying baby and Zain walks
back to pick him up. Zain has no choice but to sell the baby to Aspro.
Aspro asks him for an id in order to arrange the trip to Sweden.
Zain walks back into his parents' house demanding an id. His parents beat
him up and then slowly reveal that Sahar has died. Zain graps a steak knife
and runs out, chased in vain by his parents. He stabs Assaad, is arrested
and thrown in an overcrowded prison. Back to the trial, the judge calls
Assaad, who shows up in a wheelchair. He admits marrying an eleven-year-old
girl and doesn't see anything wrong with it. She got pregnant and started
bleeding. When they took her to the hospital, the hospital wouldn't take her
in and she died on its doorstep. Back to the prison, one day Rahil sees
Zain and they are reunited. They tell the police about Aspro.
Zain's mother comes to visit him and tells him that she is pregnant again,
and that she wants to name the baby Sahar if the baby is a girl. Zain is
Zain calls a popular television show and tells the host that he wants to
sue his parents. Back in court, Zahin tells the judge that he wants his
parents to be forbidden to have more children. Meanwhile, the police find
and arrest Aspro, and free dozens of illegal immigrants held like animals.
They also find Yonas who is reunited with his mother.
The authorities take a picture of the jailed Zain, his first document.
He is finally recognized as a human being.