(director/writer: Nadine Labaki; screenwriters: Jihad Hojeily, Michelle Kesrouani, in collaboration with Georges Khabbaz, with the participation of Khaled Mouzanar; cinematographer: Christopher Aoun; editors: Konstantin Bock, Laure Gardette; music: Khaled Mouzanar.; cast: Zain Al Rafeea (Zain), Yordanos Shiferaw (Rahil), Boluwatife Treasure Bankole (Yonus), Kawthar Al Haddad (Souad, the Mother), Fadi Kamel Youssef (Selim, the Father), Cedra Izam (Sahar, the Sister ), Alaa Chouchnieh (Aspro), Nadine Labaki (Nadine), Nour el Husseini (Assaad), Elias Khoury (The Judge); Runtime: 121; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Khaled Mouzanar, Michel Merkt. Executive producers: Akram Safa, Fouad Mikati, Candice Abela, Ayla Rizk, Samer Rizk, Georges Sarraf, Sylvio Sharif Tabet, Ray Barakat, Chady Eli Mattar, Antoine Khalife, Joslyn Barnes, Danny Glover, Wissam Smayra, Joana Vincente; Sony Picture Classics; 2018-Lebanon/USA-in Arabic & Amharic with English subtitles)

It’s a rewarding and well-made arthouse film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title is defined as “a confused jumble”. It was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s the Lebanese entry for the Oscar for best foreign-language film. Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki (“Caramel”/”Where Do We Go Now?”), in a documentary style, powerfully directs and co-writes her best film to date, a hard-hitting dark one that gives us an edgy look into a dysfunctional Lebanese family and country. Her main co-writers are Jihad Hojeily and Michelle Kesrouan.

Most of the actors are non-professionals. The director plays the child protagonist’s lawyer.It’s a moving story, even if sometimes clunky, about an unfortunate 12-year-old boy Zain (Zain Al Rafeea, a Syrian migrant) living in the Beirut slums, who while in prison for a stabbing sues his parents to protest the life they’ve given him. The angelic-looking kid with a history of bad behavior lives with his poverty-stricken ignorant parents Souad (Kawthar Al Haddad) and Selim (Fadi Kamel Youssef) and many siblings in a squalid apartment. Through flashback we trace Zain’s path to jail. At one point the self-reliant kid runs away from home after one of his favorite sisters, an 11-year-old, Sahar (Haita Cedra Izzam), is sold to a local man. Looking for a new mother figure, he latches onto Rahil (Yordanos Shifferaw), taking care of her one-year-old baby Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole). She’s a Ethiopian refugee who’s hiding her baby in fear of deportation by the authorities and seldom ventures out from her makeshift hut on the outskirts of town.

The focus of the film examines how anyone can survive in such a backward environment as the Beirut slums. Besides breaking your heart with its downer story on the human condition, it draws attention to the plight of children in Beirut’s slums and the lost soul refugees without ID cards. Zain serves as a symbol for such desperate children, whose childhood has been stolen. It’s a rewarding and well-made arthouse film, whose call for justice and compassion is its heartfelt rallying cry. Capernaum will draw comparisons to the much glossier slum story “Slumdog Millionaire,” but is more authentic, horrific and raw.