Nadine Labaki’s film Capernaum (2018) presents a child’s-eye view of life in the Beirut slums as an undocumented person. The main character, Zain, runs away from his neglectful birth family and is able to find a new family with Rahil (also known as Tigest), an Ethiopian migrant who lost her work permit and is now using false working papers which will soon expire, at which time she will face deportation. Labaki’s inspiration for the film came from the Syrian refugee crisis and the flood of Syrian refugees coming to live in Beirut, often without official refugee status, who are now ending up in a kind of stateless limbo. She focuses on characters who live outside of the law and without any recognized citizenship. Through Zain, she shows what growing up in precarious circumstances looks like from the point of view of an intelligent street child; through Rahil, she shows the desperate attempts to keep a family together when undocumented.
1. What are some of the specific difficulties the main characters face in terms of being (or faced with the prospect of being) undocumented? How are these portrayed in the film? Which obstacles or issues did you find most moving, most important, most memorable?
2. What do you think are some of the most significant moments/statements/lines of dialogue toward the end of the film, and why? Discuss.
3. What passage from the readings helps you understand something important about this film’s message, and/or about Nadine Labaki’s reasons for making the film? Or her many challenges in making the film? Include it and discuss.
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