Josef Fares Returns to Beirut for Swedish Film ‘Zozo’

Judith Gabriel


Directed by Josef Fares

Memfis Films

102 minutes, 2005

“Zozo” was Sweden’s official selection for Foreign Language Film at the 78th Annual Academy Awards. Set during the Lebanese civil war, it tells the story of a Lebanese boy whose family is waiting for their papers to emigrate to Sweden to join the boy’s grandparents, who had already settled there.

On the day the documents are delivered, Zozo’s mother Ward (Carmen Lebbos) sends him on an errand. As soon as he leaves his apartment building, it’s shelled, killing both his parents. After Zozo’s elder brother Dav (Jad Stephan) disappears to join the fighting, Zozo’s only choice is to take his passport and ticket and try to get to the airport on foot, along with his pet chicken and a young girl he encounters along the way. He makes his own way to Sweden alone, to be embraced by his grandparents who had settled there earlier.

When the scene shifts to Sweden, Zozo has to deal with being the newcomer in the midst of a typical local school, where the other schoolchildren have no inkling of what he has been through. Despite his overzealous efforts to fit in, Zozo finds himself at the receiving end of more senseless aggression from an older schoolyard bully. But ultimately, although he is haunted by loneliness for his mother, he makes a place for himself. The actor portraying Zozo, 10-year-old Imad Creidi, delivers an exquisite and nuanced performance, and he learned to speak Swedish – his fifth language – in just 10 days.

This is the third film from director Josef Fares. His previous two Swedish made films – “Jalla! Jalla” and “Kops” – were comedies, and although “Zozo” shows the tragic horrors of war, it has comedic moments, many of them stemming from the role of the pet chicken, or in the loving gruffness of the salty Lebanese grandfather played by Elias Gergi. 

Fares, who also wrote the script, himself was born in Beirut and emigrated to Orebro, Sweden at the age of 10. He began making films at the age of 15, and has directed several shorts. The shooting of “Zozo” marked his first return to Lebanon in 17 years, and many scenes were shot in his family’s former apartment, which is now abandoned. The entire section of the film set in Lebanon packs a powerful and tragic wallop in its nightmare-like war zone scenes, with much of it enhanced with computer generated images. 

The musical score by Adam Nordén uses a sad piano and duduk to balance the European and Arabic elements of the story, as well as an occasional guitar, a string ensemble and a choir.

In mid-January, the film was an official selection in the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and was the opening film at the Scandinavian Film Festival in Los Angeles. It also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and the London Film Festival.

This essay appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 11, no. 52 (Summer 2005)

Copyright (c) 2005 by Al Jadid

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