Sunday, August 4, 2013

Lords of the Flies

Film: Ali Zaoua, Prince of the Streets
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I understand exactly why people make films like Ali Zaoua, Prince of the Streets and I even understand why they are so important. I just wish I didn’t have to watch them. This is a film that is gutting like few others, although Cidade de Deus lands squarely in the same sort of real-world horror of children being forced to grow up long before their time and in the most awful way. This is not a pleasant film by any stretch of the imagination, and while there may be moments of sweetness here, it is filled with the sort of brutality that most of us pretends doesn’t really happen in the real world.

We start with a group of Casablanca street kids being interviewed. The one for whom the film is named, Ali Zaoua (Abdelhak Zhayra) is being interviewed. He claims that he ran away from his prostitute mother because she was going to sell his eyes to someone. He and a small group of friends have left a larger street gang run by Dib (Said Taghmaoui). Shortly after his interview, Ali and his friends are confronted by Dib’s gang. One member of the gang throws a rock that hits Ali on the temple, and Ali soon dies of the wound. So, our title character dies in the first 10 minutes or so of the film.

Now, his three friends, the new leader Kwita (Mounim Kbab), the scarred Omar (Mustapha Hansali), and the somewhat disfigured and manic Boubker (Hicham Moussoune) decide that Ali deserves a real burial. They determine that to do so, they must earn or steal enough money for his burial. They also decide to track down Ali’s mother (Amal Ayouch) and let her know that her son has died.

As the film goes on, several important things happen. Ali had talked about being a cabin boy on a ship and had arranged for a ship to take him on. Kwita, who ends up with Ali’s compass, begins to flirt with the idea of sailing away himself as a way to escape the terrible life he lives on the streets. At the same time, Omar, unable to tell Ali’s mother that her son has died, begins to get closer to her, allowing her to bathe him and take care of him, almost as a surrogate for her lost son. Through all of this, the three deal with the continual desire to bury their friend. There is the additional significant problem of getting Ali out of the hole in the dock area that they have stored him. Kwita’s ascension to cabin boy and working with the old sailor (Mohamed Majd) who originally hired Ali causes a rift between the trio as well, particularly when Boubker tries to join in as well.

All of this sounds rough enough, but there’s explicit evidence that Dib and his gang initiate new members by raping them. The kids, particularly Omar and Boubker, are addicted to sniffing glue, which causes some bizarre actions. In Kwita, the glue cause animated hallucinations that are vivid, childish, and beautiful. These fantasies come with a wife for Ali, who is a girl that Kwita sees repeatedly and develops an infatuation with.

But despite this beauty, this is a film of pain and tragedy. There’s not much that happens here that is good for anybody. In that respect it is a harsher, more brutal version of Cidade de Deus, which I didn’t think was possible. There is kindness in Hamid, the old sailor, but even this seems to come to nothing.

It’s impossible for me to say I liked this film, because this is not a film that is there to be liked. It is instead a film to be experienced because it demands to be seen. What it comes down to for me, though, is that I don’t like to see kids in pain or forced into these terrible situations. It makes this a difficult film to sit through, and not one I’m likely to sit through again. Much of this is made worse specifically because so much of what happens seems directed or even desired by the kids. It’s evident that Ali could have had a real life, but instead decided against it. It’s tragic in large part because it is so terrible and because it is so innocent at the same time.

Why to watch Ali Zaoua, Prince of the Streets: You will appreciate everything in your life.
Why not to watch: You’ll feel like a shit for complaining about anything.


  1. This was a film that I was avoiding - no, that's too strong a word - that I was hesitating to watch for quite a while. When I finally did see it, though, I was glad I did. While it also impacted me, it appears it was in a somewhat different way from you. I wasn't as troubled by the situations the kids were in because I guess I was expecting to see it, hence my hesitation to watch it. I think that I was expecting it to be even worse and in a weird way when it wasn't it was a bit of a relief.

    1. I can see that. There's some uplift at the end, but that ending is so open that I'm not sure it's enough.

      I have a couple of those "hesitating to watch" films left.

    2. "I have a couple of those 'hesitating to watch' films left."

      What are they, if you don't mind me asking? Perhaps I can assuage your concern on one or more of them.

    3. In roughly chronological order...

      Pink Flamingos--I know what's there.
      Turkish Delight--I've heard what's there.
      Forrest Gump--I already know I hate it.
      Tetsuo--From what I know about it, I'm not sure I want to see it.
      Meet the Parents--I really, really, really dislike Ben Stiller in general, and I hate comedies that center on embarrassment. However, I've resolved myself to watching this one this week.

    4. Well...I'm not going to be a ton of positive energy here. Sorry.

      Pink Flamingos was my sole 1 star film in July. You may not be as prepared as you think. I thought I was, knowing about the dog shit scene. By the way, it comes right at the end and has nothing to do with the story. It was other scenes I didn't know about that got me. I wrote about it in my July movie status post.

      Turkish Delight isn't actually that horrible. I gave it two stars. The first ten minutes pretty much gives you a sample of everything you will get.

      Forrest Gump - I figured this might be one because you've mentioned already watching it and hating it before. I can't help you here. I'm usually in the minority on not thinking popular films are THE BEST EVER (i.e. The Dark Knight), but in this case I'm with the majority. I loved Forrest Gump.

      Tetsuo - I think I'm the person who scared you on this one. I gave it 1 star. It's sort of like a live action Akira. The good thing is it's only 70 minutes long. It also might be enough of a mind fuck that you will like it.

      Meet the Parents - I laughed at this film and I'm not necessarily a Ben Stiller fan either. What you wrote about embarrasment is where some of the humor comes from. For the rest, though, it's not so much embarrasment as it is intimidation from Robert Deniro being the future father-in-law - one who used to work for the FBI and sees bad in everyone.

      And you didn't even name a few others I'd give 1 star to (he writes ominously.) If it helps at all you've got six films left that I'd give either 4 or 5 stars to (although Forrest Gump is one of them) and only five films left that I'd give 1 star to - and you named two of them. And there are another 20 or so left that I would recommend (3 star rating.)

    5. I'm tempted to go back through some of your posts to see your one stars.

      Also, I know what's coming with Pink Flamingos beyond the dog shit scene. I'm aware of what's there. I know there are things I don't want to watch, but I'm going to do it anyway.

    6. "I'm tempted to go back through some of your posts to see your one stars."

      So you're a bad news first kind of guy, huh? Okay, I'll go there. Of your remaining films the ones I gave one star to are The Cloud Capped Star (depressing for the sake of being depressing), The Mirror (I'm in the minority; it's considered a classic), Pink Flamingos, Annie Hall (remember me writing about beloved movies I hate?), The Hills Have Eyes (which is horror, so you'll probably like it a lot more than me), and Tetsuo.

      Just to balance it off, your remaining films I would give five stars to are Back to the Future and Paths of Glory. The remaining four star films for me are Forrest Gump, The Last Picture Show (which I know you are leaving for last), The Last Seduction, The Thin Blue Line, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Real Life.

      And the ones I would recommend (and I may be missing a few here, since I am doing it off the top of my head rather than looking them all up) are Prizzi's Honor, The Pillow Book, Fox and his Friends, Drowning By Numbers (watch for the numbers 1-100 to appear in order in the film), Four Weddings and a Funeral, Cria Cuervos, Meet the Parents, Le Samourai, Drugstore Cowboy, sex lies and videotape, The Son's Room, Bob le Flambeur, The Cranes Are Flying, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, The Muppet Movie, Clueless, Bigger Than Life, Days of Heaven, and Sleeper.

  2. I watched Ali Zaoua last night on YouTube. Yeah, it's pretty depressing.

    But also thoughtful, moving and beautiful.

    And I believe it's only the second movie I've seen that's set in Casablanca.

    The homeless boys cross from Marseilles to Oran and then make their way - by foot or donkey or wheelbarrow - to the streets of Casablanca in French Morocco. Those whose prostitute mothers want to sell their eyeballs to the black market must wait in Casablanca. And wait. And wait. and wait.

    1. Yeah, it's a pretty rough film in a lot of respects, but I think it's one worth seeing.