Lebanese actress, Nadine Labaki, directed an absolute gem of a movie, Capernaum. It is an Arabic word, chaos or confusion. It was a movie for the true art lover in every sense of the word. The film lost to the movie, “Roma”, at last year’s Cannes film festival awards for the best foreign movie, which is a great pity because the theme of this movie: the harsh cruelties of being poor and being neglected is a growing phenomenon, not just here in Africa but in all third world countries from Asia to South America.
This is a very low budget movie but in terms of cultural and educational value, very few Hollywood block busters come close to it. In two and a half hours, Nadine exposes the suffering of children through the life of a young angry but caring and intelligent Zain, who despises his parents for very good reasons. Nadine brilliantly used her artistic licence when she created a scene where young Zain takes his parents to court for having him. Zain asks the poignant question to the judge, ” why do parents have children, when they cannot look after them”?
Zain’s dad’s reply was he believed that by having plenty of children, his children would look after him. This, unfortunately, is a myth that exists amongst most poor societies. Nadine in an an interview mentioned that 90% of the children interviewed said that they wished that they had not been born. Children are forced to work at a young age to provide for their families, robbing them of their childhood.
Zain’s dad literally sold his thirteen year old sister to a shop owner, three times her age so that she could have a bed to sleep in and a roof over her head.
The young lady died at birth and the husband saw absolutely nothing wrong with marrying a girl at such a young age because his mom got married at a young age. Zain ran away from his parents and lived with an Ethiopian female with a small child. Through this relationship we learn how difficult it is for foreign nationals/refugees to get a permit in other countries, the bribery that goes on to get a permit and how foreign nationals are abused by their employers.
When Zain returns home, he is so incensed with his parents for giving his sister in marriage to a man, whom he felt had taken her life, that in a fit of rage, stabs the man. Zain is sentenced to five years for attempted murder. Zain’s family, out of sheer desperation to feed their family had to resort to selling, a prescription drug, tramadol, through a very ingenious method to prisoners.
The movie offered a number of insights into what things are like here in our country, so it is very well worth seeing. There were many silent moments in the movie because the scenes did the speaking and left a lump in one’s throat, at times. The scene of a tired Zain sitting on the pavement with the Ethiopian woman’s one year old child, not knowing where to turn to because the mother was locked up for not having a permit, revealed so much about the struggles of young children that it was utterly heart wrenching.
The young lad, a Syrian boy, now in Norway, played an outstanding Zain and might end up with a promising career as a big star one day. Nadine was offered many scripts from America after the success of this movie but she felt that she needed to stay to have her say about social issues facing her country. Our directors and writers can emulate Nadine to write our own stories because we have such great heart wrenching stories and a very sophisticated film industry to bring these stories to our screens.
We need the arts to break down age old myths that is forcing our poor to remain permanently poor.
Dr Ellapen Rapiti is a family physician, specialising in child and mental health and addiction counselling.