Ali, Kwita, Omar, and Boukber are a group of street urchins living on the hard streets of Casablanca. Their everyday lives are filled with violence, begging, and indifference. In order to survive they create a bond of friendship and family between then. The bond is cut short when Ali is senselessly killed at the beginning of the film by a blow to the head; his life taken by a single act of a rival gang. Ali's friends decide not to report his death to the police, who would have the boy buried in a potter's field. Instead they decide to give him a worthy burial, to bury Ali on the private island he so often dreamed of. Ali Zaoua captures the power of dreams and presence of hope in the harshest of circumstances.
'Ali Zaoua' finds magical beauty in street kids' bleak reality
By Moira Macdonald
Set in the seared streets and vacant lots of Casablanca, "Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets" is populated by children: boys, aged perhaps 8 or 9, with scratchy little voices and sad eyes. There's nothing cute about these boys — they're grubby street urchins, petty thieves and glue sniffers — and nothing childlike about their dilemma, as they try to collect money to bury a dead friend in the manner of a prince.
Director/co-writer Nabil Ayouch spent several years befriending actual Moroccan street kids before making his film, and this is reflected in the ease of the mostly non-actor cast. The boys, who alternate between boyish exuberance and soul-crushing sadness, are perfectly natural for Ayouch's camera, giving a documentary-like realism to the story.
It's clear from the start that there can be no happy ending for these Lost Boys — abandoned by their parents, their choices are to live alone on the dangerous streets, or to join up with the mysteriously scarred Dib (Said Tahgmaoui), a sadistic gang leader. But Ayouch, carefully walking a tightrope between realism and sentimentality, shows us a third option: a magical fantasy future, shown in animation, in which young Ali, who always wanted to be a sailor, paddles away to an island paradise.
And director of photography Vincent Mathias finds the beauty in an ink-blue Moroccan night sky, or a watercolorlike final shot with two suns quietly glowing. "Ali Zaoua" occasionally crosses the line into heavy-handedness, particularly in one scene in which a boy repeatedly tosses away a lame puppy who nonetheless keeps returning. But it's the eyes of the children, not the puppy, that stay with you after "Ali Zaoua" is over — as well as the compassion that's evident in every frame.
--Moira Macdonald/ The Seattle Times - Review
March 15, 2002
By Jamie Russell
Ali Zaoua may have been left to wander the streets of Casablanca with the rest of the city's glue-sniffing street urchins, but when he's killed in a stone fight with a gang of boys, his three friends decide to bury him "like a prince".
Eking out a life amid the squalor of Morocco's port and taking refuge in the city's abandoned construction sites, Kwita, Omar, and Boubker don't have much chance of giving him the funeral he deserves. They can barely find enough food to eat, whatever money they steal gets spent on glue, and deaf-and-dumb gang leader Dib (Saïd Taghmaoui, from "Three Kings") is after them.
Nabil Ayouch's film immerses us in the lives of these grubby street kids, limiting the adult roles to just three characters. It's at its best when showing us the fractured innocence that these children share - they may only be eight, but they've already developed an understanding of the harsh realities of the world that's far beyond their years. At the same time, Ayouch captures their childish dreams in a series of (glue-induced) hallucinations where a series of chalk drawings come to life.
The script puts this clash between innocence and experience to good effect in the marvellous dialogue that constantly switches from naiveté to profanity and back again. But it's the beguiling performances from the three young children that are really captivating, and it's their sense of the comic and the tragic elements of their predicament that gives the film its enjoyable energy. A real treat.
--Jamie Russell/ BBCI - Review
May 9, 2003
By Don Houston
Picture:The picture was presented in 2.35:1 ratio Anamorphic Widescreen and looked very detailed with a multitude of textures. There was obviously a lot of thought that went into the composition of the movie on a technical basis and I noticed very few problems that weren't related to conscious decisions on the part of Director Ayouch.
Sound: The audio was in Arabic with English subtitles in a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. For the most part, this aspect of the movie was also very clear and crisp.
Final Thoughts: For all the diminished hopes of the children involved with this movie and the stark contrast between the background they suffered through and what I'm used to, I thought the movie was immensely enjoyable. There was little or no attempt to portray the leads as completely sympathetic and that only added to the reality of the message. The larger message, for me at least, concerned the disposable nature of lives in society and even in a rich country like ours, it's a problem. I highly recommend this one to fans of foreign cinema and I'll be looking for future efforts by this director (and company).
--Don Houston/ DVDTalk - Review
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Jeff in Seattle - Customer Review
Bryan Pfleeger - Customer Review
I do not usually see a lot of Moroccan films. In fact, this is probably my intoduction to the cinema of Morocco and Nabil Ayouch's little film is a great intoduction to a culture that not may not be familiar to most casual viewers. Ali, Kwita, Omar and Boubker are street kids living near the port in present day Casablanca. Their existence is not an easy one; it would seem that their only souce of pleasure is sniffing glue. The four boys have just run away from a violent street gang that seemsto include most of the homeless kids in the city. One day early in the film Ali who had dreamed of being a sailor is killed by a random act of violence. It is up to his friends to find the means to bury him and to try to keep his dreams alive. Ayouch utilizes both his non professional actors and his location quite well. At times the cinematography of Vincent Mathias can be quite striking. The story though a simple one has great resonance. These kids even though living in a very foreign place have the same dreams and problems of children living anywhere. They look for the same things anyone is searching for: a family and a place to belong. The film is presented in standard definition with good subtitles. Film Movement is to be congratulated for bringing to wide attention a film that few would have seen outside the international festival circuit. Included with the feature film is the short film by Mike Mills The Architecture of Reassurance. Well worth checking out.
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