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A Child’s View of Poverty Heartbreakingly Displayed in ‘Capernaum’

Oscar buzz is circulating for Capernaum, a foreign film being praised for its remarkable portrayal of an impoverished reality in Lebanon.

An acclaimed new film from Lebanon is being called a “rallying cry” for children living in impoverished conditions all over the world.

Although the premise for Capernaum appears improbable or even absurd—a child sues his parents for negligence amidst the harsh living conditions of politically unstable Beirut—critics have been won over by the film’s convincing portrayal of truly dire circumstances that affect children in the area.

The film has already won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and secured a nomination for best foreign-language film at the upcoming Golden Globes.

Director Nadine Labaki clarified the film’s theme to The New York Times: “[The boy is] actually not only suing his parents, he’s suing the whole system because his parents are also victims of that system—one that is failing on so many levels and that completely ends up excluding people.”

Labaki explained that her film is far from exploitive or manipulative, remarking that its portrayal of poverty was true to life in Lebanon.

In recent years, Lebanon has taken in more than a million refugees fleeing the war in neighboring Syria. Subsequently, hundreds of children resort to begging on the streets.

Inspired by these horrors she witnessed in her own city, Labaki spent years interviewing and researching these homeless children and their parents—mortgaging her own home to finance the film.

The film’s title is a Biblical reference to a village doomed to hell, or chaos. One of the world’s oldest cities, Beirut is known for its overcrowded, poverty-stricken slums.

Labaki went on to stress the universal themes of the film and how it represents the plight of children all over the world, too.

“We’re talking about kids not receiving their most fundamental rights. Kids on the Mexican border, when they’re separated from their mothers,” Labaki continued. “Kids in Brazil that live in favelas. We’re talking about children in general.”

Using nonprofessional actors, the film reflects on the story of a 12-year-old boy who runs away from his impoverished home life and winds up roaming the slums of Beirut, living by his wits.

Adding to the realism, scenes that took place in prisons and slums were simply shot with real people who inhabited those domains.

Although the subject matter is grim, Labaki also employed the film with moments of poignancy and humor that are inescapable to the human experience, nonetheless.

Capernaum opened in theaters December 14.



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