The second day of Miami Film Festival GEMS brought the opportunity to see two personal favorites of the festival. For Oscar, “Capernaum” could become something special, even with “Roma” likely stealing most of the foreign language thunder. At the same time, “Woman at War” should not be undervalued. It really shines through, at once both extremely charming and poignant.

“Capernaum,” Directed by Nadine Labecki

This one was the real find, ranking as the best and my favorite of the festival. “Capernaum” will make you cry and make you stand up and cheer. Labecki pulls this movie off with an incredible sense of how to direct children. She somehow gets a performance out of a 2-year-old. Lead actor Zain Al Rafeea interacting with Boluwatife Treasure Bankole creates natural moments for the story.

“Capernaum” follows a young boy named Zain (Al Rafeea) who chooses to sue his parents for bringing him into the world. The story uses the court case as a framing device to tell of Zain’s struggles with poverty. After his sister is sold, Zain runs away from home and finds Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw) at a theme park. Rahil, an immigrant to Lebanon, tries to hide her baby Yonas (Bankole) from government officials. She allows Zain to stay with her to babysit Yonas while she tries to raise the money for forged papers.

“Capernaum” will draw many comparisons to “Slumdog Millionaire” or “The Florida Project” due to its depiction of poverty. It falls somewhere in between, with Zain showing more of an attitude and awareness of the dark side of poverty than the “Slumdog” children. Still, that undercuts what is a beautiful story about loss, the struggle to survive, and real poverty. Labaki’s script shines through, gripping you emotionally in ways that “Amour” or “A Separation” have in years past. Al Rafeea joins the ranks of the great child actors over the past five years. His performance shines and draws you into the story in heart-wrenching fashion. Like Brooklynn Prince last year, you only want him to find happiness, even if just for a minute. This one feels special, and might be among the best of the year.

Grade for “Capernaum” – (★½)

“Woman at War,” Directed by Benedikt Erlingsson

“Woman at War” occupies an interesting space between delivering an important message, but also trying to be humorous. It succeeds on both accounts, resulting in a story that can only be described as a climate change comedy. The tone director Benedikt Erlingsson creates feels similar to “A Man Called Ove,” yet strikes its own style by crashing through the fourth wall.

“Woman at War” follows Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir), a woman whose actions as an environmental fighter have many in the Icelandic government worried. She fights to save the natural environment of Iceland by blowing up power stations and breaking power lines. As the government searches for the unknown activist, Halla finds out that the adoption paperwork she filed four years prior has finally been approved. Now she must choose between continuing her cause and becoming a mother.

Geirharðsdóttir shines throughout the film, playing dual roles. In addition to Halla, she plays Halla’s twin sister Ása as well. The sisters once had similar ambitions, but now they find themselves in very different places in life. Geirharðsdóttir brings both characters to life as fleshed out and distinct personalities. The film also features one of the silliest ways of introducing a score, with a literal band present through many of the scenes. The cinematography is gorgeous, capturing natural Icelandic beauty in a fashion similar to American westerns. Altogether, “Woman at War” features a strong central female character, while simultaneously showing off impressive below-the-line work. It is a crowd pleaser that could end up being a dark horse in the Foreign Language race.

Grade for “Woman at War” – (★)

Awards

Several awards were handed out at Miami GEMS 2018. “Capernaum” took home the Gigi Guermont Audience Award. Additionally, actress Bárbara Lennie received the Festival’s Precious Gem Award after starring in both “Everybody Knows” and “Petra” from director Jaime Rosales. Cinematographer Diego García received the Art of Light Award for his work on “Wildlife” from director Paul Dano. You can find the awards listed below.

Miami Film Festival Gigi Guermont Audience Award

“Capernaum” directed by Nadine Labecki

Miami Film Festival Precious Gem Award

Bárbara Lennie for acting in both “Everybody Knows” and “Petra”

Miami Film Festival GEMS’ Art of Light Award

Diego García, cinematographer of “Wildlife”

Read our first day of coverage of the Miami Film Festival GEMs here

Miami Film Festival will run March 1, 2019 to March 10, 2019.