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Film Reviews Review: Immigration drama Capernaum avoids sensationalism to deliver painfully tragic story

Zain Al Rafeea, left, and Boluwatife Treasure Bankole in Capernaum.

Fares Sokhon/Sony Pictures Classics

Capernaum

Directed by: Nadine Labaki

Written by: Nadine Labaki, Jihad Hojeily and Michelle Keserwany

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Classification: 14A

Length: 121 minutes

rating

Humankind is experiencing an immigrant and refugee crisis. Yet Donald Trump and right-wing extremists like him continue to blame – and vilify – the victims. Capernaum, co-written and directed by Nadine Labaki (her film Where Do We Go Now? won the TIFF People’s Choice Award in 2011), does the opposite.

Labaki shows us, in granular, street-level detail – using mostly non-professional actors, many of whom are refugees themselves – what life looks like for the unprotected. In an overcrowded, undermaintained apartment block in Beirut, 11-year-old Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) lives with his parents, undocumented immigrants who can’t afford the exorbitant cost of citizenship papers. When desperation forces them to make inhumane choices, Zain finds a different kind of family with Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw), and makes a bold choice: He sues his parents for giving birth to him.

Although that may sound sensationalist, it’s actually painfully sad. Labaki is bearing witness here, and Capernaum (the name means “chaos”) doesn’t flinch from the fact that there are villains in the system. But none of them – none of them – are children.

Capernaum opens Jan. 11 in Toronto, Jan. 18 in Vancouver and in additional Canadian cities in February.

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