Lebanon’s Capernaum (Arabic for “Chaos”) from the daring Nadine Labaki is a bold critique of adolescent autonomy featuring enough sorrow and thoughtfulness to both make you depressed but be glad for the experience. Thanks to a “qualifying run,” this final exceptional release of 2018 went largely unrewarded in the more palatable Oscar bait shoved at the end of the year, but the Cannes Jury Prize-winning breakout showcases directorial skill previously lauded in Sean Baker with The Florida Project for harnessing chaotic situation or Hirokazu Koreeda’s Nobody Knows for its treatment of stolen childhood, and in some ways it’s the realistic version of Slumdog Millionaire despite no glamour or “dreams come true” ending.
When Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) faces his neglectful upbringing with parents popping out children they can’t afford, he sues his parents in order to bring justice to his and his siblings’ instability. After his beloved sister Sahar (Haita ‘Cedra’ Izzam) is given away (literally) to their landlord, Zain is forced into exile to escape the wrath of his parents and forms his own protective circle with Ethiopian immigrant Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw) and her infant son Yonas. Taking on responsibilities far outside his preteen maturity, Zain faces an increasingly narrow margin between his generation and the next as he battles eviction and cautious family building with an even smaller infant in tow. His little sister has been thrust into marriage, and he’s suddenly forced to feed a child; and he’s been hocking bathtub gin you wish was from a bathtub. For Zain, life is a welcome mat with a rusty nail in the middle; what could possibly happen when the tetanus sets in? Labaki’s film delivers this in a captivating way. Where’s her best director nomination?