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Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) is only 12, but he's seen enough of this life to resent his very existence. With numerous children to care for, his parents resort to some inventive scams, such as saturating garments with tramadol, which they then pass along to Zain's incarcerated brother who reconstitutes the drug and sells it to fellow prisoners. More alarmingly, Zain's parents have sold his 11-year-old sister's hand in marriage, which prompts Zain to run away.
He befriends an Ethiopian cleaning woman, whose baby he eventually becomes guardian to. But life on the streets offers Zain fewer and fewer places to hide. Encouraged by a current affairs program seeking to draw attention to child poverty, Zain files a lawsuit against his parents for giving birth to him. The trial provides the frame through which Zain's story unfolds.
The latest from award winning director Nadine Labaki (CARAMEL, WHERE DO WE GO NOW?), CAPERNAUM is a divisive film, with equal praise and derision from audiences at Cannes, where it had its world premiere. Is it a call-to-action for the rights of children or is it an attack on people living in poverty who are “abusing the system?” The Grand Jury sided with the praisers, giving the film the Cannes Jury Prize. However, CAPERNAUM is a conversation starter and in a way, it is successful in that such social issues are never black and white.