Capernaum (Chaos)

28/11/2019 19:45.
Cert 15

Neo-realism at its best, as this hard hitting film about a 12 year old boy Zain [Zain Al Rafeea] shows, whose neglectful and criminal family struggle to survive in post-conflict Beirut. Director Labaki cast non-professional actors, which gives the film a documentary feel, with a cameo by herself as the lawyer who represents the jailed Zain from where he sues his parents for neglect. A film about how humanity can elude individuals but, as seen in our earlier film Shoplifters, still be evident in circumstances of extremis. Labaki shines a spotlight on the refugee crisis in the Middle East, the consequences of being unregistered and stateless and its effects on the children who live there.

Dir: Nadine Labaki, Lebanon, 125 mins, 2018

Programme Notes

Departing from the often humorous narratives seen in her previous films Caramel (2007) and Where Do We Go Now? (2011), acclaimed director Nadine Labaki looks head-on and with piercing clarity at the plight of stateless families and their children in Lebanon.

Capernaum’s opening aerial shot of the shanty town that is home to those who have sought refuge from their own war-torn homelands, provides a warning as to the extent of the crisis. Labaki adopts a documentary style for the film, using many non-professional actors. However, the main protagonist Zain, a 12 year-old boy whose childhood has been ripped
away from him at the mercy of his neglectful and feckless parents, bears the gravitas of his situation with incredible stoicism. It is only when his pre-adolescent sister Sahar is traded to the family’s landlord as a child bride that Zain finally reaches his tipping point and runs off to form a makeshift family with illegal Ethiopian immigrant Rahil and her baby son.

Acknowledgements: Kate Stables, Sight&Sound

“There is […] a palpable anger in the film at the Kafka-worthy plight of Lebanon’s many thousands of unregistered children who, without an ID card, have no official existence and no access to schooling, medical care or travel documents. Without ID, illegal immigrants such as Rahil are at constant risk of arrest” Kate Stables, Sight&Sound

(Yordanos Shiferaw, an Eritrean refugee who plays Rahil, was herself detained during filming)


  • A flawless film – with a gripping narrative from start to finish. Nothing less than truly harrowing. Remarkable performance from child actor Zain
  • Very moving – fantastic directing and acting. Reminded us of the inhuman living conditions we are normally sheltered from!
  • Devastating portrayal of powerlessness – even the well-meaning attempts to deal with it failed
  • Unbelievable and unbelievably sad. The saddest film I’ve ever seen. Should I feel helpless – what can I do? The acting was amazing
  • The most harrowing film I’ve ever seen
  • Very powerful – much food for thought
  • Well made but very harrowing
  • Well done but totally depressing. Can’t we have some films that are a bit jollier?
  • Too depressing for my liking – but acting and cinematography both great. Zain excellent, as was Yonas. The powerful message was man’s inhumanity to man versus human kindness
  • Truly a season in Hell
  • No laughs here!


A:18, B:6, C:0, D:0, E:0 to give 94% from 100% of those present.