Capernaum (Capharnaüm) 1.0 stars

Capernaum (Capharnaüm) movie poster

Director and co-writer Nadine Labaki gives the world a Middle Eastern The Cider House Rules — that is, a film that explicitly argues against bringing children into the world under difficult circumstances while relying for its narrative hook and dramatic effect on the heroism and resilience of a child brought into the world under difficult circumstances. Twelve-year-old Zain (a slight and moppetish Zain Al Rafeea) certainly has cause for heartbreak and rage when his parents give his 11-year-old sister away in marriage to the guy who’s letting their large family live rent-free in a few rotten rooms. (It’s never quite clear why Mom and Dad are in the awful situation they’re in; here as elsewhere, the point is that circumstances are difficult and kids suffer for it, so maybe don’t ask so many questions.) So it’s understandable that he decides to run away and look for some less painful life. He even finds it — for a while. But sorrow weighs upon Zain like the mournful-string score weighs upon our ears, to the point where even he is driven to try abandoning an infant on a crowded sidewalk while the grownup world looks on in utter indifference. (Subtle, this ain’t.) It’s no spoiler to announce that he eventually trades the role of child for adult mouthpiece and sues his parents for giving birth to him, because that’s pretty much how the film opens. It’s also pretty much how it closes, except for a final pair of scenes that take tremendous gall — as opposed to courage — to offer up, given all that’s been said and done before. 2018.

Matthew Lickona

This movie is not currently in theaters.


JamesTarramann Jan. 11, 2019 @ 8:36 a.m.

Given the entirety of this "review", that’s been said and done before. What a misleading review, full of snobbism! To start, it declares an incorrect duration of the movie. If it wasn't the minimal job of a reviewer to provide such easy to check information! I wonder if this unfortunate "reviewer" always questions the financial situations of all characters in all movies he "reviews". Or is it simply because he's allergic to witness how lower class people survive? Did he ever ask how a rich character in a movie ended up in such situation? Pity to see how pretentious people, failing their homework as "reviewers", reveal how much they are devoid from any humanism.


Matthew Lickona Jan. 11, 2019 @ 8:50 a.m.

Hi James, movie duration is provided automatically by an electronic listing service, not by me. Not sure why it got this runtime wrong, but you're quite right. Interestingly, when you Google "Capernaum runtime," you get the same result: 2 hours 30 minutes. But of course, that's not correct. As for the "awful situation" I mention about the parents, it isn't that they're poor, it's that they're so far outside the system that their children's births are not registered, a situation which is presented as unusual even for people who are poor and nearly homeless. I'm not a bit allergic to seeing how lower class people survive. I am, however, a bit allergic to hearing a film lecture me about how poor people should not have kids after it has spent so much time making me care about the children of poor people. Cheers.


JamesTarramann Jan. 11, 2019 @ 4:44 p.m.

Electronic or not, the least is to check and verify facts. It's in the job description! Regarding the registration situation, it's appallingly incomprehensible how would someone expects everyone to be living in the same comfort as they! Digest this: if your system makes it easy for you to register a birth, it's not necessary the same everywhere! Do all undocumented refugees in your country register themselves, or their children to authorities? Did you bother looking that registering a birth in that middle eastern country would cost the parents more than a $100, a value that unfortunate class would invest in food and more urgent necessities?

And to top all your negligence in the article, you rate it with the lowest possible score!!! I may not be an expert, but couldn't you notice the directing talent in this movie to handle such young non-professional kid and toddler to come up with such performances? Couldn't you scratch the surface a little to appreciate, in the tiniest possible way, how the writers tied the knot of the vicious cycle in this intelligent story? In case you aren't able to process the events yet: The parents under the harsh situation sold their daughter to marriage, Zain revolted against this act and escaped home, Zain under the harsh situation sold the younger person he was supposed to care about, making him repeat the same act of his parents that he rejected.

I couldn't help but deducing you made a prejudgement about the movie even before watching it, and all you care about afterwards was to highlight elements that would incorrectly enforce your unfair prejudice.


Matthew Lickona Jan. 11, 2019 @ 6:36 p.m.

Nope, no prejudgement. Also, not the lowest possible score. The Reader gives films without merit zero of five stars. One star indicates some merit, if not a successful film. It was not at all clear that the family in question were undocumented refugees. At one point, Zain practices pretending to be a Syrian refugee, but he has to practice, because that's not what he is. And in the film, it is treated as unusual that the parents did not register the child. At no point do the parents indicate that it's something they could not afford to do. So once the film presents it as unusual, it's up to the film to give some account. I understand the cycle that was represented, and the directorial challenge in working with children. It was indeed impressive. But that doesn't make it a good movie.


JamesTarramann Jan. 12, 2019 @ 7:55 a.m.

Refugees or not, the cost to register birth, believe it or not, is not free in some parts of the world, but yet you assume as a reviewer that a movie should only target US audiences and therefore should explicitly spend all of its duration explaining the country's political/cultural/juridical background, because focusing on the human side should be done in 5 minutes.

| "It was indeed impressive. But that doesn't make it a good movie."

With that contradicting statement, all what you've wrote and all what you've graded, do not make it a good review! To give one star, and to bury deliberately from your review, what you've just admitted as "impressive", are just discrediting your ethical choices regarding your work. A constructive review does not highlight solely what does not work, it should equally mention what was nicely done.

I hope you'll understand, one day, objective criticism regarding your work, in the same way when you strike your criticism (objective or not) towards others' works. Maybe, just maybe, you'll accept to review your "reviews".



Matthew Lickona Jan. 12, 2019 @ 10:17 a.m.

Once more with feeling: the film itself presents the lack of registration as unusual. I'm not measuring the film's universe against mine, I'm entering the universe of the film and seeing if it fits together.

There is no contradiction in saying that a film has an impressive aspect but is not a good film overall. The single star, as I said, indicates some merit (as opposed to zero).

I can certainly understand your desire for longer reviews that take care to note the positive alongside the negative. Alas, the Reader has space constraints, and critic must make certain choices. Cheers.


JamesTarramann Jan. 12, 2019 @ 11:51 a.m.

The lack of registration is of course unusual in the same as the lack of electricity. You've got to pay for it, and most do so. But when you belong to the unprivileged class, your priorities will no longer follow what you consider "usual". And that's why you still fail to understand because you are still measuring things according to your ivory tower way of life. Writing your reviews from the comfort of your couch, your desk, or in a cafe! And this is were I find that your review does not fit altogether! (Ironical, to see how your review lacks the same elements you are accusing the film of! Hence I invite you another time to review your own reviews.)

The review length has nothing to do with the quality of the content as long as you treat negative and positive sides proportionally. Unfortunately, your obvious prejudice prevents you from making a balanced choice, and you chose the unprofessional way to selectively, and unfairly, highlight only the negative points to spread your misconception on the readers who have no information about the movie but this unjust "review".


Elliot77 Feb. 17, 2019 @ 12:16 a.m.

It is insane that someone could be so bloody clueless and exhibit such a clear arrogance at the same time. On the Dunning-Kruger curve you have clearly managed to hit a massive local minima, to a degree that you have zero hope of ever getting over yourself, because you are simply unable to muster the brainpower it requires to see another persons point of view. What are you even doing writing reviews, you couldn't see past your own nose, let alone talk about what it is like for someone so far removed from your insanely wasted privilege.
There was a recent study that showed that even in America, simply by having insecurity about when/how you will pay your bills, just the insecurity, not even the case when everything falls apart, lowers a person's IQ by 13 points. That is over 10 percent to the average person. And when you are in the situation and stress that refugees are in , an idiot like you would not have a chance in hell of surviving, because you have clearly never had anything close to that happen to you, and yet you arrogantly assume to judge the entire deeper premise of the movie on minutiae you are not even close to being correct on anyway. There is something deeply, deeply akin between Trump and you. You share a similar arrogance and blindness.


CCorin Feb. 21, 2019 @ 10:33 p.m.

What a disdainful, lazy assessment of this film. The assertions made are ridiculous and completely (deliberately?) miss what this movie is doing. I can't recall the last time I read a review that engages in such a shallow reading of a film.


AlexReynard March 14, 2019 @ 8:47 p.m.

re: Elliot77

How appropriate you mention Dunning Kruger. Your entire argument boils down to, 'This movie has an important message, therefore it must be good.' No. A movie can be right and still badly made. Or competently made, but emotionally manipulative propaganda. I don't know if this film is. I only know that Matthew is doing his job as a filmmkaer: judging the quality of a movie, not the importance of its politics.


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