Zarafa (animated)
Release date: French Film Festival 2013, Mumbai
Directed by: Rémi Bezançon and Jean-Christophe Lie
Cast: Vernon Dobtcheff, Max Renaudin, Thierry Frémont, Simon Abkarian, Clara Quilichini, Francois-Xavier Demaison, Ronit Elkabetz, Roger Dumas, Mohamed Fellag

Zarafa is a dark fairytale, and it creates the said antithesis in a poised manner. It’s a children’s film and it manages to deliver the social background of the story’s life in the Nineteenth Century.  Not resorting to mind-numbing 3D, the makers create a pleasing yet sketchy animation.

Maki (voiced by Max Renaudin) is a Sudanese boy captured by the evil French slave trader-cum-hunter Moreno (Thierry Frémont) He’s trapped with Soula (Clara Quilichini) at Moreno’s ‘boot camp’, he manages to escape and on the run, Maki befriends a giraffe. The giraffe’s mother is killed by Moreno and the latter promises the younger herbivore’s mother that he will take care of her.

Hassan (Simon Akbarian) saves Maki from being recaptured and fends off Moreno. He accosts Maki and they name the young giraffe as Zarafa (Arabic for ‘giraffe’) They travel the deserts and this is where Hassan imparts the lesson of “looking to the stars whenever you’re lost in a desert or sea”. On reaching Alexandria, we get to know that Hassan was on a mission to find a giraffe so that the Egyptians can provide the strong French with a gift in lieu of their help to fight off the attacking Turks.

Bad things happen, and we get to see a satirical take on the racial fascinations of the French, in form of King Charles X (Roger Dumas) and his three queens. Along the course of the 78 minute long film, there’s betrayal, redemption, longing, joy and the plain satisfaction of a ‘happy ending’. The fringe characters like, Baboulina (Ronit Elkabetz), the female pirate or the sole white ‘positive’ accomplice-adventurer Malatere (Francois-Xavier Demaison) or even the outspoken trader Mahmoud (Mohamed Fellag) and his twin cows Mounh and Sounh offer more depth and help to connect the loose ends.

Zarafa is fun for kids and insightfully entertaining for the adults. I’m not going with ratings here since it’s futile to rate a film that released over a year ago, but I’d put it as a watchable experience.

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