Reviewed by: Rebecca Naughten

"A pleasant enough story with much to engage younger members of the family."

Loosely inspired by events that took place in 2002, Rani Massalha's directorial debut follows veterinarian widower Yacine (Saleh Bakri) and his young son Ziad (Ahmed Bayatra) as they try to care for the animals in the rundown Qalquilya Zoo in the West Bank. The zoo and its inhabitants can be seen as a metaphor (although one that is lightly handled) for the Palestinians in the West Bank - they are in precarious containment, and hamstrung by poverty and a bureaucracy that wilfully makes things more difficult for them.

But the zoo also provides a kind of oasis from the surrounding conflict, at least for Ziad. A solitary and deep-thinking boy, he prefers the company of the zoo's two giraffes - Rita and Brownie - to that of his aggressive classmates. When an Israeli rocket strike causes a panicked Brownie to hit his head, Yacine is unable to save him due to his limited medical equipment. His quest for the rest of the film is to save Rita - who goes into a terminal decline in the absence of her mate - and to ensure the happiness of his son (who refuses to eat until Rita does).

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The legal avenues to acquiring another giraffe are unworkable - bureaucracy and the zoo owner's profligate ways mean that permits and funds would not be obtained with sufficient speed to save Rita - so Yacine approaches an Israeli friend (Roschdy Zem) who has previously supplied medicines to be smuggled into the West Bank for him. His friend is willing to take Rita into the safari park in Tel Aviv - impossible as the giraffe is not well enough to travel, but also because of the effect it would have on the young boy - but sending a giraffe to Qalquilya instead is deemed out of the question. So father and son set out to steal a giraffe from Tel Aviv and take it back to the West Bank - a journey that will involve twice crossing the border illegally.

At this point Giraffada more obviously becomes a family film with a fable-like atmosphere. There is something magical about giraffes - located perhaps in the way that their slender elegance and grace contradicts their size - and the sight of this creature (CGI or not) walking within an urban, war-torn landscape is a dream-like juxtaposition. The problem is that this part of the film is ultimately devoid of the tension and sense of danger that such an escapade might be expected to generate (even within a family-oriented drama) - a tension that is ably generated earlier in the narrative when Yacine searches for Ziad after curfew. But although uneven in terms of narrative tensions, Giraffada is a pleasant enough story with much to engage younger members of the family.

Reviewed on: 23 Sep 2014
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A bond develops between a child and a giraffe.

Director: Rani Massalha

Writer: Xavier Nemo, Rani Massalha

Starring: Saleh Bakri, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Ahmad Bayatra, Mohammad Bakri, Loutof Nuweiser, Roschdy Zem, Doraid Liddawi

Year: 2013

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: Occupied Palestinian Territory, Italy, Germany, France


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