Bearing a striking resemblance to Bunuel’s Los Olvidados, produced a half a century previously, the characters in Moroccan-made Ali Zaoua, Prince of the Streets find themselves in the same dire situations as Bunuel’s young, hellish protagonists. Such evidence suggests something important about third world cinema—that when a colonial presence departs, the people of a nation are left in a turbulent society and struggle to find their identities. The children in the film are not innocent: when pre-teen Ali Zaoua is killed by a rock in a juvenile gang fight, we are immediately thrown into a world of crime and desperation. The fact that these children have been prematurely thrust into a cruel adult world, however, does not make them any less vulnerable. They regularly express ambitions and hopes, represented very poignantly by short, animated sequences wherein they become sailors and leave for a remote exotic island.
The focus of the film becomes finding a way to build a casket for their fallen friend and to give him the burial at sea that he would have received as a sailor. It is difficult for them to find help, as the only parent figure in the film is Ali’s mother, an apathetic prostitute trying to navigate through life just as the rest of the characters. Ali’s young friends are at last able to enlist the support of several ragtag community members, such as the man in the hardware store and a fisherman willing to tote Ali’s body. In the end, it is more optimistic that Los Olvidados; but, as is common in many developing nations, when the means of film production are introduced, the real, raw stories told by its citizens are not always rosy.