Ali Zaoua (2000) – movie review

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Movie Review by Alice Castle

Starring: Abdelhak Zhayra, Mounïm Kbab, Mustapha Hansali, Hicham Moussoune
Director: Nabil Ayouch

In the two years before making this film, Director Nabil Ayouch accompanied a team of educators tracking street children in Morocco, the land of his father. The closeness and warmth he felt for these children is reflected in the film which tells the story of four boys who have all decided to go it alone without their families.

Ali Zaoua, has left his mother because she is a prostitute in Casablanca. He’s invented a story for himself that she was going to sell his eyes in order to make enough money to stop working. And so he left home before he was even a teenager. Ali has a dream, and it is to escape the streets and become a sailor where he hopes to find a land where two suns set over the great wide ocean. His dream is not realised though, as he becomes a victim in a street fight and is killed – the remainder of the film deals with how his three friends cope with their loss and their urgency to give him a proper burial.

Before his death, Ali and his friends Kwita, Omar and Boubker pass the time playing football, singing to scrounge pennies and sniffing glue to relax, when street life gets too much for them. They are a close unit, having left a much larger band of street children, a gang headed by the dumb, adolescent Dib, a sinister Fagin like figure, who’s motto is “Life is a piece of shit”. Tough and supremely street-wise though they are, the four still have the imagination of children and it is this quality which makes the film rather more uplifting than a depressing docu-movie. Nabil Ayouch intended to make the film as an urban fairytale and he succeeds; in the children’s inner worlds there are beautiful flowers, charming girls and golden sunsets.

This really is a wonderful film largely because of the performances by the children who Ayouch selected from the streets of Morocco. The bond between the children is equally touching, as are some of their observations – soap smelling disgusting, or advertisements coming alive for their amusement.

In the filming of ALI ZAOUA educators were seconded to talk to the children/actors about their plans for the future, and some of the children returned to their families or started work. Ayouch explains: “The first days were very hard on the cast and crew. There were many conflicts between the children, due to them having to live with other people, and they ran away a lot. However the crew soon understood that this was no ordinary shoot. They realised what was at stake and very strong bonds were forged between them and the children. A rather strange phenomenon occurred on set. The children began to come to terms with all the constraints of the shoot. They showed solidarity with the project. The discipline which the film imposed on them seemed necessary to them – they welcomed it even.”

It was a project which was well worth completing and I hope the children are very, very proud of their achievement.

5 out of 6 stars