Lebanese film Capernaum, which was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018 and won the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize, is based on a life story from the migration route to the red carpet. The film stars Zain Al Rafeea, a 13-year-old born in Syria. Zain’s life changes when the film’s director, Nadine Labaki, sees him. Director Labaki describes how he felt when he saw Zain:
-I knew right away that he would be our hero. There was sadness in his eyes. He immediately understood what you were saying and showed it with his eyes.
And he adds:
–We took six months to shoot the film and a year and a half to complete the editing. None of the children you will see in the movie have received professional training, and I spent a lot of time and effort explaining what they were doing. I did a lot of research and tried to find out how the system failed these little kids. Most importantly, while trying to do that, it was very important for me to be able to make my film based on real-life events.
The film reflects the reality beyond the camera to the audience as impartially as possible. In this sense, Labaki’s success is indisputable. The facts, with their streets, the sounds of prayer, their fights, their deprivation, hunger and anger, stand before the audience without touching any lens. Known but unseen… I think this is the message that director Labakani wants to convey throughout the film. The lives we know but don’t look to see. There’s also Zain, of course. Zain and his gaze. Then there is the smile. The biggest share of the movie and the reality is on his face.
The movie begins with a trial on the left of the courthouse.
Zain Al-Hajj. Approach the pulpit.
Behind the podium are Zain’s parents: Souad and Selim Al Hajj.
The judge asks:
–Do you know why you’re here?
-Yes, says Zain
I want to sue my family. “For giving birth to me.” After this scene, we go back to the past and see what Zain went through all the way to the courtroom.
Zain is one of thousands of children whose births are not reported and who are not even officially registered. She lives with her mother, father and siblings in a small flat in an old building. Zain, who works for the grocery store Assaad, starts working in the evenings with his sister Sahar, sometimes selling fruit juice, sometimes medicated water, and sometimes napkins. However, when Zain’s sister Sahar turns 11 and lives the custom of being a woman, she is married to Assaad, the grocer by her family, who is older than her. Even though Zain is the only person who opposes this situation by saying, “Mom, he’s just a kid“, he can’t prevent Sahar from getting married. In his father’s language, only these sentences were: It was to save him from misery”
But weren’t some misery better than death?
After Sahar’s departure, Zain, who left the house and started looking for a job, encounters the immigrant Ethiopian Rahil at an amusement park he enters. Zain’s new life is taking shape with Rahil and Rahil’s younger son, Yonas. Yonas and Zain are left alone on this new road when Rahil is taken to the immigration office because he does not have a residence permit. We have been witnessing Yonas and Zain’s struggle for life for a long time. Returning to his own home days later, Zain takes the knife and leaves the apartment after hearing about his brother Sahar, and the last turning point for him is Roumieh Juvenile Prison. Zain, who was connected to a program that was very hot on one of the days he stayed here, says:
–I want to complain about my parents. I ask adults to listen to me. I don’t want adults who can’t raise children to have children. What will I remember? Violence, humiliation, beatings, beatings with chains, irons, belts. Sweetest words I’ve ever heard, get out you son of a bitch! Be dusty asshole! Life is a shithole. Worthless. I’m living in hell here. I’m burning like rotting meat. Life is a bitch. I thought we would be good people and be loved. But God did not want this for us. He prefers us to be doormats for others.
And learning that he will have another sibling, Zain turns to his mother and adds:
–The child you carry will be like me!
Zain is just one of the children who grow up but whose spirit has died. Zain is just one of the children who smile while blowing out a candle on a leftover and unfinished cake. Throughout the film, we witness the life and conditions of immigrants. What the concept of family is not… Zain is the life of one of the thousands of immigrant children among us. And he is also one of the thousands of unborn children within us. Capernaum official trailer;