Europe is a continent which lends itself easily for starting up co-productions. ZAÏNA, CAVALIÈRE DE L'ATLAS is another proof of it. France, Morocco and Germany joined forces to produce this movie, which story takes place a long time ago somewhere in North-Africa. This results in the strange fact that, during that time period, all the inhabitants seemed to speak French. Oh, well, we'll forgive the producers because this clearly is a decision made from a commercial point of view.
Zaïna is an 11-year-old girl whose mother just died. According to Zaïna, her stepfather, Omar, was responsible for this incident. Then her real father, Mustapha, shows up. Until recently he didn't know of Zaïna's existence. She is entrusted to Mustapha and must accompany him during a 20-day-long voyage to Marrakech. There Mustapha will join the most prestigious horse-race of North-Africa. Omar, being very displeased with all this, starts to pursue them. During their difficult journey through the inhospitable Atlas-mountains father and daughter slowly grow towards each other.
This movie promises us adventure and excitement. Sadly it results in a movie lacking those elements. The only (not very spectacular) action-scenes are a sword-fight between the gangs of Omar and Mustapha, a nightly encounter with horse-thieves and the horse-race in the end (which is not so prestigious after all). The three sword-fights you can find in the movie are always over before they really started. And the blue/green-screen effects during the scene were our protagonists cross a ridge in the mountains are painfully obvious. I admit, this is not an American big-budget production, so you can forgive the effects being a bit transparent, but you can't forgive the Hollywoodian ending of this movie. Further more, this movie tries to make a statement about the place of women in society as portrayed during that time-period the movie takes place in, only to deny that statement at the end.
The dialogues are rather scarce and not really fluent. And it doesn't help that most of the actors give a fairly wooden performance. Though the three main characters do shed some tears at one point or another, all the actors seem kind of emotionless (except for the cheering ladies in the end).
So are there any reasons to see this movie? Most certainly. The settings and photography of the landscapes are astonishingly beautiful. From the desolate, rocky desert over the snowy mountain-ranges to the idyllic green oasis with a gentle rippling little stream running through it. Aziza Nadir, though very young, gives a decent performance as Zaïna and keeps strong between all the male testosterone. The way Mustapha and Zaïna start to appreciate each other more and more is beautiful to behold. And, of course, there's so many horses (not to mention the extol of them) that any horse-lover would want to see this movie.
ZAÏNA, CAVALIÈRE DE L'ATLAS is probably not Oscar-material (though it tries hard), but it is worth a watch. If only for the magnificent landscapes supported by an adequate soundtrack.
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