Capernaum Is a Worthy if Depressing Best Foreign Picture Nominee

Foreign language films have long worn the stigma of being slow,  depressing slogs. While Ingmar Bergman films definitely move at a different pace than those by Michael Bay, it has been almost a generation since movies like Run Lola Run, Amores Perros, City of God and Amelie showed movies in a different language  can still speak to modern mainstream audiences. Capernaum, the Lebanese Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film,  is a throwback to  what audiences once assumed a foreign film was.

Directed by Nadine Labaki, Capernaum is of the neo-realism school of The Bicycle Thief  where with it’s actors being untrained children you can at times believe you are watching a documentary. It also has the feeling of science fiction with its depiction of abject poverty that anyone with the leisure time and resources to read this blog or consider going to a movie theater could not relate to.

Capernaum (which the subtitles translate as chaos) starts out of chronological order as it depicts the story of Zain,  a 12-year-old Lebanese boy who is not afforded a proper childhood. He sits in a Lebanese courtroom suing his Mom and Dad for not being fit parents. You quickly see that Zain has a point. He is forced to work rather than attend school. His family squats in a ramshackle apartment where Zain and his multitude of siblings must all share the same bed. They are smacked and shoved for any minor indiscretion, but as the movie goes on it almost seems like Zain had it good with his folks.

Heartbreaking is an understatement for the hardships he encounters with the moral of the story being kind of shocking. Right wingers especially will be outraged and be ready to put on their Make Anerica Great Again hats on in protest upon completion of he film assuming they would be willing to watch a movie in Arabic.  Capernaum is as pro-birth control as any piece of art ever created.  Its thesis is the only way the developing world can ever squirm its way out of extreme poverty is if only those prepared to have children are the ones to have children. And throughout its two hours it makes that convincing, artful and depressing case.

If that’s an argument you’re not comfortable hearing, skip this movie. If you’re open minded to hard truths and hard lives, you won’t necessarily enjoy Capernaum, but you will be moved by it.

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David Rolland

David Rolland edits the Jitney blog. He is the author of the novels Yo-Yo & The End of the Century.