Capernaum (5 stars)


Captivating Lebanese drama following a resourceful and determined boy on the streets of Beirut

Capernaum is a rare and thrilling film. Propelled by a seething sense of injustice, it fuses expert storytelling with a striking cinematic sensibility to take the viewer on a gripping, highly emotional journey through life on the streets of Beirut.

Nadine Labaki's drama has been compared to Slumdog Millionaire but feels a tougher tale. There are the characters and rich sweep of a Dickens novel in its understanding of poverty and the way it grinds down hope and ends innocence. 12-year-old Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) is the Artful Dodger of Beirut. Part of a large, chaotic family, he refuses to let his circumstances define his life. He works selflessly to make things better for those around him. Resourceful, determined, protective of his younger sister – he has a heart of gold and the wary eyes of someone for whom trust must be earned.

When the film begins, Zain is in court bringing a case against his parents for having brought him into the world. He is also serving a prison sentence for a violent attack. Over the course of the film we learn how his life with his parents amply justifies his case and of the events that prompted his crime.

Purely as a piece of storytelling, Capernaum is captivating, carrying the viewer along with its twists of fate, coincidences, unexpected friendships (including one with illegal Ethiopian immigrant Rahil, played by Yordanos Shiferaw), and awful partings. We really feel that we have come to know Zain and the world he inhabits.

Beautifully photographed by Christopher Aoun, Capernaum needs to be seen on a big screen. It is a film that requires the attention and focus that only comes with surrendering yourself to a cinema performance. The reward is a haunting salute to an indomitable human spirit.

Selected release from Fri 22 Feb.


  • 5 stars
  • 2018
  • Lebanon
  • 2h 1min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Nadine Labaki
  • Cast: Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole

Zain (Al Rafeea) is a 12-year-old in Beirut who brings a court case against his parents for bringing him into the world. A captivating piece of storytelling with the rich sweep of a Dickens novel, beautifully photographed. A haunting salute to an indomitable human spirit.