Capernaum’s neorealist spirit is smothered by its sentimentality and endless string of indignities; it’s as if the film is operating as Zain’s trial defense, every moment making his case that it probably would have been better if he’d never been born.
What are people saying?
What are critics saying?
It’s quietly absorbing and fitfully shocking as we experience the sights, sounds and smells of the streets where a one-year-old child can wander around alone without anyone stopping to wonder why.
Capernaum is a movie that wants its audience to empathize with its protagonist so intensely that you agree he should never have been born. It’s a fascinating (if obviously counterintuitive) approach, but one that’s frustrated by the literalness with which Labaki unpacks it.
While this is unquestionably an issue film, it tackles its subject with intelligence and heart.
Capharnaüm is not without its issues. The director over-relies on the courtroom scenes and the movie’s message is heavy-handed at times. Yet, the sheer force of the filmmaking and its artful delivery overpowers sappy overreaching.
If it doesn’t tie many (or any) of these thematic strands with a neat bow, that’s in the nature of a film that chooses raw dramatic power over narrative finesse.
Although the narrative is structured through a highly unbelievable instigating conceit — Zain is trying to sue his own parents in court for giving him life in the first place — Labaki lures such outstanding performances out of the almost entirely non-professional cast and sketches such a credible view of this wretchedly poor milieu that the flaws are mostly forgivable.
Makes for a generally powerful statement on human misery and grotesque inequality, though some third act creative decisions and maneuvers cause a wobble or two.
It’s a simplistic film in some ways, with a naive ending – but there is energy and vigour, too.
A social-realist blockbuster – fired by furious compassion and teeming with sorrow, yet strewn with diamond-shards of beauty, wit and hope.