In the Lebanese movie ‘Capernaum,’ 12-year-old Zain is one of his desperately poor parents’ many children. With no hope of going to school, Zain works odd jobs around his Beirut neighborhood and tries to protect his sister Sahar, with whom he has a close bond.
When Zain discovers his parents have agreed to marry Sahar off to an older man--in exchange for a little bit of money and some chickens, Zain is inconsolable, filled with grief and rage.
With his sister sold off, Zain runs away from home. As he wanders the the city, he encounters an array of characters, including a man in a knockoff Spiderman costume who leads him to a run down amusement park. There he meets Rahil, a single mom from Africa, and her winning young child Yonas. As Rahil also struggles to survive, Zain becomes part babysitter, part adopted older brother.
The child who plays Zain is also named Zain. Zain Al Raffea is a Syrian refugee who was brought to Lebanon as a small child, and who was living a difficult life in Beirut when he was cast in the film. He’s since been resettled with his family in Norway.
Capernaum is directed by our guest today, Nadine Labaki. The film is only the second Lebanese movie to ever be Oscar shortlisted--the first was last year’s ‘The Insult.’ Getting to this place is an achievement, as Labaki says there was not and still is not a formal film industry in her home country.
She tells us about falling in love with film while growing up in war-torn Lebanon, why she was drawn to this particular story of children struggling to survive and the roller-coasting of making this movie--which is fitting because the title ‘Capernaum’ can mean both “chaos” and “miracles.”