Bil’s rating (out of 5):.
Children on the streets of Beirut’s slums survive by their wits, and twelve year-old Zain is no exception. His parents are poor, his siblings are many and he spends his days finding any way to make a buck while also keeping an eye on his eleven year-old sister Sahar. Despite her youth, Sahar is about to be brought into the realities of adult life thanks to the impending changes happening to her body, and traumatized by where this leads her, Zain runs away to another part of the city that, as far as he concerned, might as well be on the other side of the world. Alone, friendless and hungry, he eventually befriends Ethopian immigrant Rahil, a woman struggling as a cleaning woman while trying to keep her infant son hidden for fear of being deported. Zain becomes makeshift caregiver for the baby while she works, but this is thrown in disarray when she is arrested for working without a permit and he must do whatever he can to stay alive. The framing device for the story is a courtroom case in which the young man has been arrested for a serious crime, which prompts flashbacks to this narrative in which we put together the circumstances that led to his having committed the deed. Nadine Labaki’s look at the cruelty of life for the destitute of the city is beautifully shot and does a great job of always emphasizing the vulnerability that people living in these conditions are always under, but she seems to have no wish to avoid the whiff of melodrama that lays heavily over what is otherwise a very moving story. The acting is excellent, the children are particularly good, but its attempt to be another City of God is undone by its taking part in a long tradition going back to Bicycle Thieves, in which symbolism poorly masquerades as social realist storytelling. It’s a film that is obviously made by someone who doesn’t live in the world she is filming and fingers are pointed with great ease, most egregiously in the unnecessary courtroom scenes that spell the film’s morality out with awkward earnestness.