Miserabilism is too common an artistic choice in portraying poverty; director Nadine Labaki’s variation on that theme adds a premise that’s morally indefensible. The narrative centers on a 12-year-old Syrian boy named Zain (Zain Al Rafeea), who—in framing sequences set after he has been convicted of a violent crime—files a lawsuit against his parents for having him. The bulk of the story unfolds in flashback, as Zain runs away from home after his beloved sister is sold off into marriage, and he winds up serving as live-in babysitter for an Ethiopian immigrant. The non-professional Al Rafeea provides a prickly energy to the unpleasant developments in Zain’s life, and maybe this basic narrative works with a conventional chronology, minus the awful framing device. Plus, you’re really gilding the lily by mixing up the impoverished native underclass with the plight of migrants and the evils of those who prey on their vulnerability. The heartstring-tugging works at times, but when it feels like you’re ultimately coming down on the side of “the best way to prevent a lot of suffering is to sterilize the poor,” that’s, like, a problem.
Director: Nadine Labaki
Producer: Nadine Labaki, Anne-Dominique Toussaint, Candice Abela, Joslyn Barnes, Jason Kliot and Fouad Mikati
Cast: Nadine Labaki, Kawthar Al Haddad, Boluwatife Bankole, Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw and Fadi Yousef