Capernaum (Lebanon, USA 2018)

Showing from Friday 1st March

Capernaum was the winner of the Leeds International Film Festival 2018 Best Fiction Feature film award, and was nominated for an Oscar (Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film 2019).

“I wish my parents had never had me!”

“Capernaum” is often used to mean “chaos” in French literature. It is also the name of an ancient Palestinian city on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus Christ is said to have performed miracles. Times are tough for undocumented people who end up in Beirut slums. And I mean tough! Life is about getting by … life surrounded by hunger, petty crime, violence, forced marriage, detention centres, as well as some compassion. If you saw Slumdog Millionaire (2008), that was a bit cosy by comparison. Capernaum shows abject poverty where people have no legal way out.

Without papers you are nothing in the eyes of the authorities. Lebanese director Nadine Labaki understands the brutal reality of life there. Most of the cast are novice actors from the neighbourhood who draw on their personal experience. Zain (Zain al-Rafeea) is a streetwise 12 year old, a survivor who is close to his younger sister Sahar (Haita ‘Cedra’ Izzam). During the story Zain joins forces with an Ethiopian migrant worker Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw) and her baby son Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole ).

Don’t let this harsh background put you off seeing a very good film! You will also see humanity, resilience and love amongst the prevailing political, social and economic injustices. Personally I have gained so much from films that offer glimpses into the lives and struggles of people across the world. Just a few examples:

  • Taxi Tehran (2015) made despite a ban by the Iranian authorities;
  • The Act of Killing (2013) about mass killings in Indonesia;
  • Speed Sisters (2017) about Palestine’s all-women racing car team;
  • The Journey (2017) about a suicide bomber in Baghdad;
  • A Cambodian Spring (2016) popular resistance to forced evictions
  • Fukushima, Mon Amour (2016) about people living in the shadow of nuclear meltdown
  • Félicité (2017) about a singer in Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) trying to get medical treatment for her son
  • Human Flow (2017) Ai Weiwei’s film gives a global context to the struggles of displaced people
  • I, Daniel Blake (2016) reminds us that the UK is not exempt from such dehumanising treatment.

We are indebted to the directors who use their skills to tell such stories, sometimes at great personal risk, and always with the huge challenges of assembling the necessary funding, gathering a film crew, and arranging production and distribution. Fortunately there are growing numbers of them thanks in part to iPhone cameras, drones, and support from international groups. Films like Capernaum contribute in their own way to moves towards an urgent search for meaning and identity across the globe and illustrate results of conflicts, some of which are prosecuted in our names.

Capernaum is showing at the Hyde Park Picture House from Friday March 1st to Thursday March 7th inclusive.


Bill Walton

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