Lebanese actor-filmmaker Nadine Labaki moved up to the Cannes competition lineup this year with Capernaum, following her 2007 directorial debut, Caramel, which premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight, and her 2011 Un Certain Regard selection Where Do We Go Now? Variety’s Jay Weissberg argues that the new film “represents a major leap forward in all departments. Proving herself an astonishingly accomplished director of non-professional performers as well as a measured storyteller, Labaki draws attention to the plight of children in Beirut’s slums . . . While this is unquestionably an issue film, it tackles its subject with intelligence and heart.”
Capernaum is structured around a trial in which a twelve-year-old, already serving time for stabbing someone, is suing his parents for giving him life. Flashbacks reveal a childhood that is indeed wretched. “Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire is an obvious point of comparison,” suggests the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin. “But the film is closer in texture and spirit to Fernando Meirelles’s Brazilian gangster epic City of God, and has a middle hour so crazily ambitious—imagine a neorealist version of Baby’s Day Out—I’m not entirely clear how Labaki pulled it off. Watch it win the Palme here on Saturday, and maybe the foreign language Oscar next.”
Many critics will grant that Capernaum is grade A awards bait, but that doesn’t mean they have to like it. This is “the kind of social-issue sadness pile that confuses nonstop hardship for drama, begging for our tears at every moment,” writes the A.V. Club’s A. A. Dowd. “Capernaum’s neorealist spirit is smothered by its sentimentality and endless string of indignities.” Vulture’s Emily Yoshida finds Labaki’s direction “unnecessarily manipulative,” while for IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, “for every moment that feels more witnessed than staged . . . , there’s another that feels glaringly artificial.”
More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 3/5), Martyn Conterio (CineVue, 4/5), Ben Croll (TheWrap), Mónica Delgado (desistfilm), Leslie Felperin (Hollywood Reporter), Lee Marshall (Screen), and Barbara Scharres (RogerEbert.com).
Nicolas Rapold and Eugene Hernandez discuss Capernaum and more films at Cannes on a new episode of the Film Comment Podcast (44’59”).
Variety’s Elsa Keslassy reports that Sony Pictures Classics has taken North American and Latin American rights.
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