Nadine Labaki

7.3 Capernaum
6.9 Caramel

Nadine Labaki (Lebanon, 1974), formerly a director of music videos, debuted with Caramel (2006), followed by Where Do We Go Now? (2010).

Capernaum (2018) 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 disgusted. 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.
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