Capernaum by Nadine Lebaki [9/10]

I missed highly regarded “Capernaum” when it came out a couple of years ago and only now have made amends. It’s harrowing and brilliant and a movie one must see, even if, as is the case with me, its forensic examination of Lebanese poverty and discrimination is not new knowledge. Twelve-year-old Zain runs away from his chaotic, brutal family and lands up with a babysitting job for an Ethiopian illegal immigrant, and when she is arrested, Zain faces the impossible mountain of caring for toddler Yonas. No plot giveaways here but anyone seeing this is already aware of the film’s core conceit, that Zain sues his parents from prison, sues them for bringing him into the world. The world in which Zain and the others exists is harsh, poor, and predatory, and writer/director Nadine Lebaki brilliantly choreographs a spare, horrific plot. Zain Al Rafeea (as Zain) and Boluwatife Treasure Bankole (as Yonas) are astonishingly realistic and powerful, but there is not a dud performance throughout. The cinematography brings cesspit Beirut to life. The climax does descend a note with a couple of maudlin touches, but overall Capernaum is a triumph.

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