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IFFR 2022 Big Screen Competition

Review: Kung Fu Zohra


- Mabrouk El Mechri places domestic violence in a Karate Kid setting, with Sabrina Ouazani playing the role of an abused wife trying to break free using martial arts

Review: Kung Fu Zohra
Sabrina Ouazani and Tien Shue in Kung Fu Zohra

"The man who has no imagination has no wings". It’s on this quote by Mohamed Ali that Mabrouk El Mechri’s Kung Fu Zohra [+see also:
interview: Mabrouk El Mechri
film profile
- a movie currently competing in the Big Screen line-up of the 50th IFFR – first opens. Indeed, this title signalling the director’s return to cinema after an absence of ten or so years, and various forays into the world of series (Maison close, Nox), does offer audiences a highly audacious package of a feminist tale in a Karate Kid style with comedic overtones, in order to tackle the most dramatic of topics - domestic violence - which is usually explored in hyper-realist form on the big screen. It’s a "light" angle of attack for such a heavy subject, which will no doubt shock and annoy steadfast whistleblowers who believe you can’t smile and laugh at everything (which is a perfectly understandable viewpoint), but which will definitely raise awareness among wider audiences of the toxic and manipulative reality of controlling behaviour, whilst encouraging silent female victims to find the inner strength required to break free.

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After a random meeting in the Atlas Mountains, Omar (Ramzy Bedia) won Zohra’s heart (Sabrina Ouazani), married her and brought her to live with him in a peaceful Parisian suburb in France. The young woman finds a job working as a cashier in a supermarket and makes friends with bus driver Binta (Eye Haïdara, who provides a narrating voiceover as a witness to the events), but she very quickly discovers the darker side of her husband who’s an embittered, jealous and heavy-drinking man. Starting with slaps (whose marks Zohra tries to hide behind sunglasses) before escalating to harder blows, the situation slowly deteriorates, but the birth of their daughter leaves Zohra feeling even more trapped.

Six years later, nothing has changed; the noxious domestic situation is firmly entrenched and has now reached an impasse, made worse by the “good dad” act Omar puts on, saving his systemic violence for unseen, one-on-one domestic contexts. It’s at this point that Zohra starts to take self-defence lessons online, in secret, then gets closer to the Asian gym caretaker who teaches her the basics of kung-fu and ways in which she can break free. But first, she needs to plan her escape towards another life, and to dare to defy her torturer…

Fully accepting of its dramedy status, the film openly plays on references (especially to Karate Kid, but also Enter the Dragon and Martial Arts of Shaolin) whilst adding a very down-to-earth, domestic dimension to proceedings (Binta calls the police, Zohra protects her family to her own detriment, then secretly practices kung-fu in the various spaces she occupies in her homemaker life — "if you have to fight in a jar, train in a jar"). A brilliantly cast movie (Sabrina Ouazani delivers a powerful performance while Ramzy Bedia is perfect as the wolf in sheep’s clothing), Kung Fu Zohra does actually tackle the topic of domestic violence, despite its entertaining façade (the ending is epic). Obviously, it’s up to viewers whether they like the means chosen to spotlight this very serious societal issue, but in the opinion of the writer of this article, any attempt to raise awareness can’t not be positive.

Kung Fu Zohra is produced by Les Films du Kiosque in co-production with France 2 Cinéma and Gaumont (who are also managing the film’s release in France on 9 March, as well as steering international sales).

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(Translated from French)

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