Director and co-writer Nadine Labaki gives the world a Middle Eastern The Cider House Rules — that is, a film that explicitly argues against bringing children into the world under difficult circumstances while relying for its narrative hook and dramatic effect on the heroism and resilience of a child brought into the world under difficult circumstances. Twelve-year-old Zain (a slight and moppetish Zain Al Rafeea) certainly has cause for heartbreak and rage when his parents give his 11-year-old sister away in marriage to the guy who’s letting their large family live rent-free in a few rotten rooms. (It’s never quite clear why Mom and Dad are in the awful situation they’re in; here as elsewhere, the point is that circumstances are difficult and kids suffer for it, so maybe don’t ask so many questions.) So it’s understandable that he decides to run away and look for some less painful life. He even finds it — for a while. But sorrow weighs upon Zain like the mournful-string score weighs upon our ears, to the point where even he is driven to try abandoning an infant on a crowded sidewalk while the grownup world looks on in utter indifference. (Subtle, this ain’t.) It’s no spoiler to announce that he eventually trades the role of child for adult mouthpiece and sues his parents for giving birth to him, because that’s pretty much how the film opens. It’s also pretty much how it closes, except for a final pair of scenes that take tremendous gall — as opposed to courage — to offer up, given all that’s been said and done before.
Length: 2 hours, 1 minute