Shot over six months, Capernaum is documentary in feel, based on years of research and interviews Labaki and her collaborators conducted with refugees and neglected, abandoned, and/or incarcerated minors. It offers an immediacy and authenticity that would not have been possible without its nonprofessional performers improvising versions of their own experiences. In this story of an abused street child who sues his monstrous parents for bringing him into the world, no one is more compelling than Zain Al Rafeea, the youngster who plays the protagonist (also named Zain), a real-life refugee from Syria’s civil war who was only 12 years old and barely literate when the director met him. He is also small for his age, a result of malnutrition; with haunted eyes and a stunted frame, he’s every inch the heartbreaking urchin. CONTINUE READING