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Review: Zakaria


Islamophobia has become an issue of extreme significance over the last few years, and while we all might recognise its treatment in a grand political and/or militaristic sense, we still might not acknowledge its effects in smaller contexts.

Tunisian director Leyla Bouzid’s 27-minute long film Zakaria (2013) deals with this issue within a familial context, focusing particularly on the dynamic between father and daughter.

Zakaria, played by Saïd Ahmama, works as a mechanic in a small Southern French village, and lives with his wife, Céline; his sixteen-year-old daughter Sarah, played by Célia Mazade; and his young son Adam. Zakaria’s Arab heritage is revealed when he learns that his father has died in Algeria. He subsequently requests that his family accompany him to the North African country and his daughter chooses not to go, catalysing a rift in their relationship.

One would at first assume that Sarah’s obstinacy is due to typical teenage selfishness and aloofness. Her priority is a trip to Paris she must purportedly take for exams, and Zakaria takes umbrage with her late nights and cavorting with boys. There are, however, subtle hints throughout the film that Zakaria’s heritage and identity are under close scrutiny by those closest to him. A quarrel in a sports bar, during which his accoster expels a “your people”-type remark, is perhaps the first indicator of the stigma our title character must endure, and Sarah’s own reservations are revealed later.

A final catalyst for the climactic confrontation between Zakaria and Sarah is the introduction of a male peer of Sarah’s who is implied also to be of Arab heritage and to have a crush on Sarah. A row between this boy and one of Sarah’s male friends during a football match reveals the prejudice against him and is noticed by Zakaria. His last interaction with his daughter involves holding her fact to a mirror in order that she might recognise her own heritage, a facet of her being she cannot escape too easily and which will possibly bring her the same trouble it has brought her father. It’s a poignant moment that finally brings into focus the issues of family and identity that are at the crux of Zakaria.

Subtlety is definitely the main element of the majority of Bouzid’s storytelling. Her script constitutes a slow crescendo of sorts. At the beginning we are presented with an ordinary man leading an ordinary life, but at the end we exposed not only to his grief but also to his inner at being an outsider of sorts, even within his own family. His decision to leave for Algeria alone is indeed as a result of his feelings of isolation.

Zakaria is effective, though it does feel a bit scant, as if all the audience is shown are bits and pieces of something larger. This might have to do, however, with the subtlety I have spoken about. There is also the sense, at the end, that what we have watched is a short introduction to a much greater narrative, which is perfectly acceptable. Zakaria is, after all, one of its director’s first forays into a promising career in film-making, and will also initiate various conversations on identity, acceptance, and the importance of family.


Josh White is a Masters student who has had an avid interest in film since childhood. He has written Arts and Entertainment pieces for numerous publications. He is currently in the process of starting a film blog.


The 36th Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) is organised by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (a special project of the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Humanities, Cheryl Potgieter) with support from the National Film and Video Foundation, , KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission, City of Durban, German Embassy, Goethe Institut, Industrial Development Corporation, Gauteng Film Commission, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture and a range of other valued partners.


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