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Film / Capernaum

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Capernaum is a 2018 Lebanese film by Nadine Labaki. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It is a 2019 nominee for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

The protagonist is Zain, a (seemingly) 12-year-old boy born into poverty. The film starts In Medias Res with Zain serving a 5-year sentence for stabbing a man. In prison, he decided to sue his parents for giving birth to him condemning him to a life of poverty. The movie moves back and forth between the courtroom and Zain's story, uncovering the reasons why he attempted murder and took his parents into the court.


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Capernaum shows the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Zain's parents frequently hit and yell at their children, sell their 11-year-old daughter as a child bride, laugh at the idea of sending their kids to school.
  • Adults Are Useless: To Zain, they definitely are. They are either abusive or apathetic, save for Rahil (who has too much problems of her own) and the lawyer, eventually.
  • Adult Fear:
    • Your little sister being sold as a child bride and dies of a miscarriage.
    • For Rahil, being an illegal immigrant who can be arrested and shipped away at any moment, being separated from her son.
  • Big Brother Instinct: A defining trait of Zain. He will hurt if you do anything to his siblings (real or adopted). And indeed he hurried his sister's husband.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Zain is still in jail, his parents are having another child and Sahar is dead. But Zain was at least instrumental in helping Rahil reunite with Yonas and he receives his very first ID.
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  • How We Got Here: Starts with 12-year-old Zain suing his parents, then goes back to recount the events that led to this.
  • The Illegal: Rahil, an Ethiopian woman who is in the country illegally. She gets knocked up and Zain, a boy himself, tries to take care of her and her baby.
  • It's Personal: Zain takes revenge for his sister when she dies during child birth by stabbing her husband.
  • Street Smart: Zain is shown as a clever kid who knows his way around the city and is careful not to be manipulated.
  • Unperson: Having a legal identity is a leitmotif. Without documents you're as good as dead, you have no rights and cannot even leave the country.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Zain is a smart kid who despite his age is able to read well into the intentions and actions of adults around him.
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