|Directed by||Josef Fares|
|Produced by||Anna Anthony|
|Written by||Josef Fares|
|Music by||Adam Nordén|
|Language||Swedish and Arabic|
Zozo is a 2005 Swedish-Lebanese film about a Lebanese boy during the civil war, who gets separated from his family and ends up in Sweden. It was directed by Swedish-Lebanese director Josef Fares. The story is mostly inspired by Fares' real life immigration to Sweden during the war.
Zozo is set in 1987 during the Lebanon Civil War. It follows a ten year old boy named Zozo (Imad Creidi) who is living with his family in the heavily devastated city of Beirut. Zozo has a normal life with school and friends, but the family plans to move away from the war to Sweden, where Zozo's grandparents emigrated earlier. On the day that their passports and airplane tickets arrive, Zozo's mother Ward (Carmen Lebbos) sends him to buy water down the street. After leaving the apartment building, it is bombed with a shell that kills his parents. Zozo is left with his elder brother Dav (Jad Stephan) and together they set out for the airport on foot. In the midst of the battles in the city, they are separated. With his passport and ticket on him, Zozo tries to get to the airport on his own.
Zozo is accompanied by a baby chicken (which he imagines can talk to him) and a girl named Rita (Antoinette Turk), whom he met on the way. She decides to join him on his journey to Sweden so that she can escape from her violent father, but once they arrive at the airport, he is already there to bring her home. Zozo leaves the chicken behind and, with the help of a friendly soldier, manages to get on a plane to Sweden.
Zozo is reunited with his grandparents and moves in with them in their suburban apartment. Photographs of his dead family makes the loss worse, but his grandparents agrees to let him live like any other Swedish child, without too many reminders of the traumas he escaped from. Although his grandfather (Elias Gergi) does everything to make Zozo comfortable with his new life in Sweden, he has a hard time fitting in. Despite lacking a knowledge in the Swedish language, he is sent to school. Things get worse when the school bullies begin picking on him. Zozo's grandfather becomes furious when he finds out that they have beaten up Zozo. He encourages Zozo to be strong and brave and to always hit back if someone decides to start a fight. Zozo, however, could never imagine fighting back, stating that he does not share his grandfather's personality.
In school, Zozo realizes that he can gain popularity by giving away stuff. Soon he has provided the whole class with fruity smelling erasers and pens that he stole after his money ran out. The teacher finds out about the theft and confronts Zozo in front of the class. In despair he violently flips over his school bench and runs out while screaming that they are idiots. Leo (Viktor Axelsson), the class's bookworm, tries to comfort Zozo. Although Zozo repels him at first, they soon become friends. Together they find the strength to stand up to the bullies by turning their backs on them instead of being provoked. Although Zozo is still haunted by dreams of his mother, his confidence is stronger than ever.
Production and themes
Zozo mirrors in many ways the life of its director, Josef Fares, who came to Sweden as a refugee from Lebanon in 1987. Seventeen years later he returned to his hometown of Beirut for the first time to record this film. Farres's back story is similar to that of Zozo in a larger perspective, but many smaller details differ. For example, Fares came to Sweden with his family uninjured, while Zozo's entire family died in Lebanon. The film is modern in that it reflects the still ongoing immigration of Arab people to Europe. Ivar Ekman of The New York Times writes that Zozo displays how Arab immigrants "are forced to deal with hostility, isolation and the shattering of [their] identity [when they move to the Western world], torn between two cultures."
Zozo has been cited for having a political theme, something Fares did not intent to create when he made the film. In an interview he said that "for me, this movie is not about Lebanon or war. It is not political or religious. It's about a journey for a child, or for a human being, a journey I think we all do in one way or another." Instead of social and political issues, Fares focuses on personal issues when he sets out to make a film. Inspired by Stanley Kubrick, he is more interested in the art of storytelling and to make people interested rather than coming up with a particular idea of what he wants the film to say. Fares has commented that "what fascinates me the most is how to touch people, how to transfer the feeling I have inside of me to you, as audience. When I succeed, that's when I feel satisfied with what I've done." With Zozo, Fares knew he would be able to share his feelings with the audience.
Zozo was Fares's drama film debut and his third film overall. His two previous films were Jalla! Jalla!, a romantic comedy he made when he was twenty-four years old, and Kopps, a comedy about Swedish police. Ekman writes that he thinks Fares was able to switch from comedy to drama simply because of his focus on personal issues. Following the critical success of Zozo, Fares grew confident that he could handle genres other than comedy well. He commented that "With this movie, I think I've found a style with which I'm comfortable. But this doesn't mean I'll only make dramas. For example, I have a dream to make a real action movie with a human touch — and I promise, you'll be shocked by what I can make. In Hollywood, they'll be, like, where did this come from?" In 2004, he also commented that Zozo is "a different and more dramatic story than what I have done before. That doesn't mean it's dead serious though — there [is] humour in this story too."
Critics have stated that Zozo transformed Fares to an established director in Sweden, having previously been known as "talented but childish". Ekman writes "it is clear that Fares has gone through a maturing process while making Zozo and has discovered both the power and difficulties that lie in searching inward for material." Fares himself has commented that "It has been very tough to make, this movie. And if it had been badly received, I don't know what I'd have done." He received the idea for Zozo a long time before the film was made, but felt he did not have enough experience at that time. Zozo also had a much larger budget than his previous films — $5.2 million (40 million kr).
Most actors in the film are from Lebanon. The role of Zozo was originally supposed to be played by a Lebanese boy who had lived in Sweden a long time, but Fares changed his mind after coming to the conclusion that "it is hard to find children with the perfect accent. Children who come to Sweden learn Swedish so incredibly fast." Three-hundred auditions were held before Imad Creidi, a Lebanese citizen, was chosen for the role. It marked his feature-length film debut. Creidi was put on the task of learning Swedish quickly and had acquired a large vocabulary after two weeks. Fares jokingly stated that Creidi's learning process went "too well, I had to interrupt him."
Filming of Zozo began in late August 2005 in Trollhättan, Sweden. The scenes from Beirut were shot later. Academy Award winner Anna Asp, who had previously worked with the largely popular director Ingmar Bergman, was responsible for the film's production design.
Release and reception
In Sweden, Zozo was released theatrically on 2 September 2005. The film premiered internationally at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, followed by showings in late 2005 at film festivals in Busan, Ghent, London, and Thessaloniki.
The film has received generally positive reviews from critics, both domestically and internationally. Leslie Felperin of Variety said he enjoyed the scenes set in Lebanon more than the ones in Sweden, stating that they "feel rich enough to have sustained a feature on [their] own." Felperin did not like the Sweden-set part of the film as much because it was less dramatic and felt like "a rehash of a recent run of Swedish culture-clash movies", such as Jalla! Jalla!. In conclusion, he stated that Fares's "mobile, kinetic directorial style fits the material well. Action scenes in Beirut, some shot on location, have potent visceral impact, although the decision to use desaturated stock with frames dropped out in the style of Saving Private Ryan, is now something of a war-movie visual cliché. Period feel is evoked subtly through costumes and production design."
Zozo has garnered negative reviews as well. Time Out London thought the film was lacking in originality, commenting that the script felt like a soap opera and that scenes of "clichéd magical realism" were "clumsily shoehorned in wherever possible (talking chickens, Zozo's daydreams, etc.)". The reviewer added that the tone of the film is similar to Life Is Beautiful; "you'll either quickly succumb to its doe-eyed sense of whimsy, or feel like you're being emotionally raped."
- Felperin, Leslie (2005-10-25). "Zozo". Variety. Retrieved 2010-04-17.
- Ekman, Ivar (2005-09-15). "Searching cultures for identity". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-15.
- Wilson-Goldie, Kaelen (2096-04-04). "Magic shines through a broken reality". Daily Star. Retrieved 2010-02-15. Check date values in:
- Lundberg, Pia (2004-06-18). "Fares turns to Beruit for inspiration". Screen Daily. Retrieved 2010-04-17.
- Gustafsson, Cecilia (2005-08-24). "Fares återskapar barndomen i Zozo". Sydsvenskan (in Swedish). Retrieved 2010-04-17.
- "Fares Zozo Sveriges Oscarskandidat" (in Swedish). Sveriges Television. 2005-09-25. Retrieved 2010-04-17.
- "Zozo Review". Time Out London. Time Out. 19-10-2005. Retrieved 2010-04-22. Check date values in: