While set in different time periods and locations, these three gripping stories told through children’s eyes have made me step back from my own parenting reality. Comfortably confined in our Western bubble, it can be easy to overlook families’ struggles in other corners of the world. These films were to me great reminders of what hardship, poverty and misery are and that relationships are what matters most at the end of the day.
The film tells the powerful story of Zain El Hajj, a young boy from the slums of Beirut suing his parents for giving him life. Capernaum depicts the harsh realities of unfortunate children with honest, raw emotions. Adopting a documentarian style and using simple, functional aesthetic, Nadine Labaki captures through the eyes of streetwise young Zain many issues present not only in Lebanon, but in any country with homeless or refugee kids. Zain lives in a cruel world where the notion of adults protecting children is subservient to that of adults looking at children in a cold transactional manner. Topics covered include parental neglect and domestic violence, the migrant crisis, human trafficking, paedophilia and child labour.
Based on the novel A Long Way Home (2014), this film adaptation follows the physical and emotional journey of Saroo, an Indian boy born in a poor, loving family. Garth Davis splits the film into two halves: the first focuses on Saroo as a five-year-old, lost in the densely populated city of Calcutta, nearly two-thousand kilometres from his home village. He must fend off predators and survive many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia. The second half of the film looks at Saroo as a grown man, so far away from the life he left years before. As memory flashbacks of his childhood and native land increase in intensity, he sets out to find his lost family. The eyes of the amazing protagonists of Saroo (child & grown-up) perfectly portray his anguish and loneliness throughout the story. The film touches on several themes, including the dual identity of an adopted child, a family’s impotence in face of their missing child and the long-lasting trauma of abuse. What struck me the most was the resilience of little Saroo – a beautiful example of children’s innate mental strength.
The Glass Castle
Perhaps less of a masterpiece than the first two, this film still offers a gritty and thought-provoking commentary on the ups and downs of family life. Many reviews pin down this film as a disappointing big-screen adaptation of Jeannette Walls’ memoir (2005) and advise to read the book instead. Admittedly, I haven’t read the book and the slow pace of this indie drama can be unnerving. However, the baseline scenario depicting the unconventional upbringing of Jeannette and her siblings at the hands of their free-spirited (and highly dysfunctional) parents stroke a chord with me – not because I was raised that way but because I often find myself swimming against the tide and rebelling against societal pressures and ideals. It also shows how parents struggling with unresolved issues can tremendously affect their children… A word to the wise!