(Release Info London schedule; February 1st; 2019, Picturehouse Central, 03:40 PM)
International Courtroom. Zain (Zain Al Rafefa), a 12-year-old boy, faces "The Judge" (Elias Khoury). Why are you suing your own parents? For giving me life.
"Capharnaüm" recounts the journey of 12-year-old Zain, who decides to sue his parents for having brought him into this world when they can’t raise him properly, even if only to give him love. The fight of this mistreated boy, whose parents have not lived up to their task, resonates like the scream of all those who are neglected by the system. Zain’s real life is similar in several respects to that of his character. Beyond Zain’s accusaton, the motor of the story recounts the initatory journey of a boy without papers. Zain has no documents and so, in the legal sense, he doesn’t exist. His case is symptomatc of a problem raised throughout the film, the legitmacy of a human being. So many similar cases of children born undocumented because their parents couldn’t aford to register their births, who ended up invisible to the eyes of the law and society. Since they're undocumented, many end up dead, ofen from neglect, malnourishment or simply because they've no access to hospital treatment. They die without anyone notcing, since they don’t exist. They're not happy to have been born. The film addresses the queston of migrants. The topic is broached through the character of Mayssoun (Farah Hasno). It's important to talk about this through the children who fantasize about these voyages about which they know nothing, these children who are thrown into adulthood, into hard and brutal lives, against their will. A universal accusaton seen through candid eyes.
The heroine of this film is a woman of colour. In Lebanon, so many girls like Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw), a person without papers, leave their families, their own children, to work for other families where they become invisible women, forced to cut themselves of from any emoton, from the right to love. Rahil is arrested in 'The Cybercafé', she was arrested for real, for not having any papers. It's hard to believe. When she starts crying as she's being thrown into prison in the film, her tears are real, as she had lived through that very experience. They’re ofen the victms of racism or ill-treatment by employers who don’t view them as they do their other employees, for the simple reason that they're women of colour. They're not allowed to love or have children. Here again, the scene at the lawyer’s, where Harout (Joseph Jimbazian) has to pretend to separate from Rahil in favour of a Filipino (Abou Assad) employee who will bring more prestge to the family embodies the incongruity of a system that not only considers these women as property but also categorizes them. The desire is therefore to celebrate these women as they deserve to be celebrated. All these moments, where fiction and reality conjoined, without doubt contributed to the film's truth.
Zain’s mother Suad (Kawthar Al Haddad) is inspired by a woman who had 16 children, living in the same conditons as in the film. Six of her children had died; others were in orphanages because she couldn’t care of them. Kawthar did in reality feed her children sugar and ice cubes. His father Selim (Fadi Yousef) is arrested for political treasure. Nonetheless, the noton of a child suing his parents seems unrealistc. The fact that Zain sues his parents represents a symbolic gesture in the name of all the children who, having not chosen to be born, should be able to demand from their parents a minimum of rights, at least the right to be loved. The trial is credible, through the interventon of television cameras and diferent media who help Zain to go to court. It’s in the courtroom that all the characters of the film meet. The idea of the court is necessary to give authentcity to the defence of a whole community of people. This hearing allows their voices, oppressed and ignored, finally to be heard. For that mater, when Zain’s mother defends herself to the judge. She expressed herself as Souad, allowing her to voice what has been forbidden her throughout her life. The tribunal is also there to confront us with our failure, our incapacity to act in the face of the poverty and desttuton into which the world is falling.
The title imposes itself without really being aware of it. That’s what this film will be, a 'Capharnaüm'. The film centers on the theme of childhood. It's about the idea of building the film around the question of mistreated childhood. A child’s face yelling into adult faces as if blaming them for bringing him into a world that deprived him of all his rights. Childhood is the phase that shapes the rest of our lives. This also a way to force us to judge. On the contrary. The court exists to force us to see and hear diferent points of view, diferent opinions. We blame the parents, then we forgive them. This comes from my own experience. When faced with mothers who neglected the rights of their childhood. The hell they lived through, the clumsiness and ignorance that ofen led them to commit great injustces towards the fesh of their fesh, it's a slap in the face. The idea is that you say to yourself, 'how could I allow myself to hate or judge these people about whose experience, whose everyday reality? It's a disturbing and raw reality. We've to believe in the power of cinema. Films can, if not change things, at least help to open up a debate, or make people think. "Capharnaüm" laments the fate of this child.
"Capharnaüm is a fiction. Nothing is fantasy or imagined; on the contrary, all you see is the result of visits to impoverished areas, detenton centres and juvenile prisons. It's crucial that the actors know the conditons the film shows, to give them a legitmacy when speaking of their cause. It's impossible for actors to portray people with such heavy baggage, who are living in a hell. The film allows the actors an outlet, a space where they're allowed to cry out their sufering and be listened to. "Capharnaüm" practcally becomes a family epic. It’s a barely-tamed film, one that emerged from our guts, and in which our DNA is deeply embedded. It's an organisatonal nightmare on every level. Just that's a victory. The story however, is the story of all those who've no access to elementary rights, educaton, health, and love too. This dark world in which the characters move, is symptomatc of an era, and the fate of every big city in the world. Zain succeeds in obtaining his documents by the end of the film, Rahil restablishes contact with her son. For the two of them, in real life as well, the film managed to legalise their situaton in Lebanon.
The film questions the pre-established system and it's contradictions , even to imagine alternative systems. The themes are illegal immigrants, mistreated children, immigrant workers, the noton of borders and their absurdity, the fact that we need a piece of paper to prove our existence, which could be invalid if necessary, racism, fear of the other, indiference to 'The Conventon Of Children’s Rights'. "Capharnaüm" wants to establish a bill that would set up the basis of a genuine structure to protect ill-treated and neglected children. To give back to these children, who are nothing but God’s will or the fruit of a satsfed sexual urge, some kind of. The trigger is to shine a raw spotlight on the hidden face of Beirut and most large cites, to infltrate the everyday lives of those for whom desttuton is like a fate they can’t escape.
"Capharnaüm" pushes realism to it's limits while exploring a social and human problem. The idea is to accentuate 'The Mad Max' side of things, almost mythological despite all that reality, that characterises the landscape of the film, and that is an allegory of the future of all large cites. The film strips back the scenes and establish a disturbing atmosphere for the audience, which is in some way brought face to face with it's culpability for having been here and done nothing. The aim of the film is to shake up and to move the audience.