Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets (2000)

“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”

‘Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets’, directed by Nabil Ayouch in 2000, is a Moroccan drama following the lives of four homeless boys who split from their gang and suffer tragedy. Ali, the title character, is killed in a street fight. His friends Kwita, played by Maunim Kbab, Omar, played by Mustapha Hansali and Boubker, played by Hicham Moussaune, resolve to bury him respectfully but they are hampered in their attempts by the authorities and gangs. It’s a surprisingly brutal film, from the sudden and shocking death of Ali to the small but horrible details of life on the streets. It reminded me a lot of Fernando Meirelles’ 2002 Brazilian movie ‘City of God’, but in many ways ‘Ali Zaoua’ is more shocking. The actors playing the three main children are innocent, and at times appropriately childlike, but their faces speak of hard experience. Their treatment at the hands of the frequently grotesque adults around them is unsettling, not least because of the matter-of-fact way it is presented. It’s almost as if, unlike the gang members in ‘City of God’, these children are destined to be where they are; condemned to be on the streets. In this way, the film is completely immersive, which makes occasional moments of fantasy in which Ali’s life and dreams are depicted through animation, all the more unusual. Instead of jarring, these moments seem to tap into the childishness of the main characters, their playfulness buried beneath the harsh realities of the world they exist in.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s difficult to watch and includes some brutal moments, including scenes of animal cruelty, but it really immerses you in the lives of the disenfranchised communities of Casablanca. Watch in a double bill with ‘City of God’, a film that performs a similar dissection of the lives of children in gangs, but on another continent.

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