Audience reactions at the Cannes Film Festival aren’t always the best indicator of a film’s quality — many of the best films have inspired walk-outs — but a 15-minute standing ovation tends to bode pretty well. For “Capernaum,” Nadine Labaki’s Beirut-set drama which just released its first official trailer, that standing ovation catapulted the film to the top of the competition heap, eventually earning it the Jury Prize at the annual summer festival.
The film, according to the official synopsis, “tells the story of Zain (Zain al Rafeea), a Lebanese boy who sues his parents for the ‘crime’ of giving him life. A gutsy streetwise child as he flees his negligent parents, [Zain] survives through his wits on the streets, takes care of Ethiopian refugee Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw) and her baby son, Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole), being jailed for a crime, and finally, seeks justice in a courtroom.”
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Labaki used first-time actors whose lives closely mirrored those of their characters, adapting her screenplay when their instincts diverged from her own. The casting led to what IndieWire’s David Ehrlich called “the best baby performance in the history of cinema.” However, he was mixed on the film as a whole, calling it “an astonishing work of social-realism that’s diluted (and ultimately defeated) by an array of severe miscalculations.” Other reviews were generally positive.
An actress as well, Labaki also appears in “Capernaum,” her third feature as writer-director. Her first film, “Caramel,” was a comedy about five Lebanese women, and premiered at Cannes in 2007. Her second, “Where Do We Go Now?,” played Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section in 2011. Sony Pictures Classics will release “Capernaum” in theaters on December 14, making it a likely candidate to nab an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
Check out the evocative trailer below.