2019 Film Reviews – 17: Capernaum [dir. Nadine Labaki; 2018]

Despite a few frustrating problems, Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum is a must-see. With admirable fearlessness, her Lebanon-set story of a young boy who decides to run away from home in protest at his parents’ decision to marry off his underage sister, paints a harrowing picture of 21st century poverty not often seen in contemporary, narrative cinema. This is a world of starvation, homelessness and constant, physical danger, peopled by refugees, helpless babies and unscrupulous plotters. It all makes for a potent brew, which is why it’s odd that Labaki felt the need to spice it up with unnecessarily sentimental music and questionable instances of quirky comedy. However, those issues aside, her latest effort is an affecting piece of work – far more mature and assured than her debut, Caramel – revealing keen observational skills and a talent for eliciting striking performances, not least from pre-speech toddlers. Do seek it out.

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