The doctor thinks Zain is about twelve years old, but nobody knows for sure; he wasn’t registered at birth. And this is not the only pretty basic thing missing from the chaotic lives of Zain and his younger brothers and sisters: they also lack a habitable home, sufficient food, protection, love. So Zain takes his parents to court. His complaint: that they brought him into the world.
Using the court case as a framework, we learn how it came to this in two long flashbacks. In an energetic montage of observationally filmed scenes, Capharnaüm examines – in part through the problems of an ‘illegal’ Ethiopian cleaner who shelters Zain when he runs away from home – the fate of the large group of undocumented people trying to survive in and around Beirut. Street-savvy and wise beyond his years, the sad gaze of young lead Zain Al Rafeaa betrays his real-life experiences as a Syrian refugee in the Lebanese metropolis.