Written & Directed by Josef Fares
Cinematography by Aril Wretblad
Starring Imad Creidi, Antoinette Turk, Elias Gergi
Josef Fares is the quintessential foreign director. He wears designer tees and faded jeans, has slicked back hair and a neat five o’clock shadow. He crosses his legs when he talks and stuffs concentrated nicotine patches (available only in Sweden) under his lip and on his gums. His latest film, Zozo, is a personal story of Fares, who was, like the main character, born in Lebanon before relocating to Sweden. Zozo is incredibly emotional and surprisingly uplifting, a tale of survival of the fittest with a kid barely old enough to ride a bike.
Zozo is the story of a young Lebanese boy who dreams of escaping to Sweden, away from the war torn country he calls home, longing to meet his grandparents across the border. Zozo is a very complex story with many ideas that could branch off into stories themselves.
One of these stories, maybe the event that fuels the entire film, is the tragic death of his loving mother, goodhearted father and teenage sister after a bomb hits their small house. Zozo and his brother escape as bombs tear apart the sidewalk and streets they traverse, a visually stunning scene, the sound of dropping bombs filling the increasingly silent theatre.
Shortly after the fleeing from his house, after seeing his mother’s leg nearly 10 feet from her body, Zozo hides in a garbage dumpster, while his brother goes for help. His brother is gunned done instantly, leaving Zozo alone with his only friend, a bright yellow chick he met earlier while saying goodbye to his best friends.
Zozo, hungry and alone, tries to use sympathy to retrieve a piece of bread. When his pathetic attempt fails, Zozo meets Rita, who buys the piece of bread and scornfully scolds the bread vendor, using her father’s position as head of the laundry mat to garner respect.
Together, Rita and Zozo plan to escape to Sweden. Their plans are spoiled when their cab across the border is stopped and searched. Rita’s abusive father is called and she is whisked away quick, never to be seen again by the cupid struck Zozo.
In Sweden, Zozo meets his grandparents and begins another chapter of his life.
The second part of the film is very ambiguous and slightly disappointing. Although I not only relate to Zozo as an adolescent looking for acceptance, but I also sympathize the war he’s already fighting, the war to start a new family.
Zozo’s grandfather is a no-nonsense old man with false teeth and a mean left hook. Zozo is instantly picked on at school, which leads to a flurry of punches and kicks from three older kids who leave Zozo’s face bloodied and bruised. Zozo’s grandfather repeatedly preaches self-defense, an act that the passive Zozo is reluctant to attempt.
Zozo quickly befriends half of his class after buying (eventually stealing) pencils and erasers from a local store. He is ratted out by his class, which leads to a sudden outburst of anger from Zozo, who throws his desk against the classroom wall. Once again, alone and confused, Zozo is confronted by the quiet and equally passive Leo, a young classmate who looks surprisingly like a young Mick Jagger.
Together, Zozo and Leo create a relationship based on sympathy for one another, a lasting friendship they both benefit from.
In order to preserve the turning points of the film, I’ll leave you with a few facts about Zozo and the effect it had at the 2nd Annual Bahamas International Film:
– Zozo won the Spirit of Freedom Award for Best Narrative Film.
– The film came close to winning the audience award after receiving a nearly unanimous standing ovation after the screening.
– Zozo was regarded as one of the strongest films at the festival.
Zozo is a very good film by a very talented director. The film is told in two sections, two very good sections, that can move the audience deeply or leave it begging for a little more. Josef Fares obviously knows how to make films, good films, and may soon have a larger impact on the direction and future of foreign filmmakers.