I recently enjoyed watching the award-winning foreign film, Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets (2000), set in Casablanca, Morocco and directed by Nabil Ayouch, on Netflix.
I was initially disappointed to find that French subtitles were not available in the DVD I received so I viewed the subtitles in English. I had no complaints about the Arabic to English translation, even though generally speaking, I believe that for cultural reasons, Arabic to French translations of films more effectively convey meanings than do Arabic to English translations. French culture has been influenced by and is more akin than English culture to Arabic culture and moreover, French is commonly spoken in Morocco and Arabic more commonly spoken in France, where Ayouch was raised.
The film is not your usual children’s fantasy tale but rather a roller coaster of events of the deepest intensity that depict the lost innocence of homeless youth in Casablanca. It is fraught with contradictions in that it leaves you feeling depressed in one moment and smiling or even laughing for a short moment. Ali has chosen to run away and live like a pauper during his very short life while ironically, his mother lives in reasonably comfortable surroundings. She has done everything possible to make his life comfortable. Yet, the only problem is that she’s a prostitute.
As the title suggests, the film is about Ali Zaoua and his dreams of living a seafaring life where two suns set in different places. Early in the story, Ali receives a fatal blow to the head with a stone and his death shakes Kwita’s world. Nevertheless, Kwita becomes the new leader of the glue-sniffing, homeless trio of boys with men’s faces. The focus shifts to Kwita’s pursuit of Ali’s dreams, with the help of Omar and Boubker. It’s a story of loyalty. Kwita never abandons his devotion to Ali and declares that he will give Ali a burial suitable for the prince that he is. Omar and Bobker go along with the plan, regardless of the obstacles they encounter along the way.
Ali Zaoua is a story of defiance and triumph over adversity and oppression. Ali, Kwita, Omar and Boubker have extricated themselves from the control of Dib, the disgusting deaf-mute leader of the large pack of boys whom he has recruited and abuses sexually and otherwise, on a constant basis. Even though hatred, fear and despair can be felt as Dib’s minions show up repeatedly heralded by the pathetic mantra they repeat: “Life is a pile of shit,” Ali’s three survivors overcome and maintain their emancipation from Dib and his gang. They survive on the streets from day to day by begging, working, stealing and nurturing dreams and fantasies of their own. Most of all, they manage to hide and preserve Ali’s body, even though he has been dead for at least three days by the time they get help with their plans to bury him.
In the end, the compass given to Ali by Hamid, the compassionate boat captain, and subsequently, to Kwita by Ali represents a return to the right course as Hamid takes Ali’s body and allows the three boys to spend their first night on the deck of his boat. The boys are hopeful as they fantasize mostly about what Ali Zaoua must be doing. The story seems to have a happy ending when, witnessed by Dib and his gang, Hamid takes Ali’s mother along with all three boys out to sea to give Ali a proper burial.