“I love cinema, cinema allows you to have many different experiences, travel, get to know different realities. You can live many lives; doctor, waiter, poor, rich. Only cinema can give you this opportunity.”
The 2020 American Film Market (AFM) was buzzing with regular panel discussions and advice by film industry experts, many of whom have worked on large Hollywood productions. I will be reviewing a few of the film gems featured at the AFM, with one of the movies featured being Code Karim.
Behind the scenes: Director Federico Alotto and Mohamed Zouaoui
The film begins the story with Karim (Mohamed Zouaoui), leaving war-torn Syria after many years of fighting in that conflict. He is haunted by the brutal acts of violence and death that he has committed in those few years of his life.
He then returns to Italy where he is from and immediately joins a terrorist cell where his reputation as a fighter proceeds him. Everything is not as it seems, however, as the police and the security services are also in communication with Karim. Is he a double agent for the Italian security services, or is he genuinely devoted to the cause of the terrorist group?
Still from film Code Karim
The premise and story of the film are very timely due to attacks taking place in European cities over the last few years. Italy has managed to avoid such large-scale attacks, and with a Muslim population of almost 2.5 million according to some reports, there is a large scope of storytelling about Muslims in Italy. It would have been interesting, however, to see how Federico Alotto, the writer/director, could have examined some of the essential elements of this story.
The background of the terrorists and why they have decided to join forces is not explored. Some of the terrorists are reverts to Islam, and the potential to explore that theme feels like a missed opportunity. The audience does not really get much of a background story of Karim, the protagonist. We do not know where he is originally from and why he got involved with the security services many years ago, or learn about his aims and ambitions.
Still from film Code Karim
The audience could have been more invested if we could understand the motivations behind Karim’s many important and ultimately life-changing decisions. We would then be more invested in the outcome of the climactic ending and the important questions that the film poses. For example, will the terrorists be allowed to complete their mission or will the secret services stop them, and which side will Karim end up on?
Code Karim, like the film Traitor (2008) which also follows an undercover Muslim secret agent, opens up the discussion about the role of the Muslim identity working to capture terrorist groups. But what crimes and sins must be committed in getting to the position to help the security services?
Behind the scenes: Mohamed Zouaoui
There are never simple answers to these complex questions, and this film briefly touches on these topics, as it is mainly an action thriller film. The story moves at a fast pace, the directing is sharp, the cinematography and editing are most very well done, and the film looks very polished for its budget.
The performance of Mohamed Zouaoui, who plays Karim the main character, is one of the best performances of the year that I have seen. I watched the film to the end twice. I would watch it again only because of his charismatic, subtle, and unmissable performance. Originally from Tunisia and trained in Italy, he has been acting in TV series and films for almost two decades, winning awards and praise for his performances. The best way I could explain his performance is a combination of Omar Sharif’s talent and Steve McQueen’s charisma. Many younger readers may not know who these actors are, I would just advise you to go and watch Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Papillon (1973).
I was able to arrange a short exclusive interview with Mohamed Zouaoui, where I asked him some questions about his role in this film and why he got into acting.
It was a pleasure to watch your latest film Code Karim.
Mohamed Zouaoui: First of all I wanted to thank the director Federico Alotto the producers Massimo Leone Valentina di Giuseppe and Rai Cinema for choosing me to play this role.
Thank you for giving us your time, we wanted to ask you some questions, how did you mentally prepare for the role of a fighter/secret agent Karim?
Honestly, I don’t do any kind of preparation, no method or various things. I am a man of instinct, I like to live in the moment. As soon as the director says action, I leave, I try to be credible, true, sincere—nothing less, nothing more.
How do you think filmmakers can help the dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims?
Cinema plays a very important role in peace and in the dialogue between all religions, to have respect and tolerance. Directors and screenwriters especially have a responsibility to send positive messages to educate the public.
What has inspired you to become an actor?
I love cinema, cinema allows you to have many different experiences, travel, get to know different realities. You can live many lives; doctor, waiter, poor, rich. Only cinema can give you this opportunity.
If you had a choice, what role would you love to play?
I am passionate about auteur cinema, I would like to play many roles but if I have to choose I would play the role of Muʿammar Gaddafi, a unique character of his kind, with great charisma.
How does acting help you to find your true identity?
Acting allows you to dream…what is better in life than dreaming?
Code Karim was viewed at the American Film Market. I would recommend you to watch “Code Karim” mainly because of the acting performance of Mohamed Zouaoui – hopefully, Hollywood will take notice and give him a starring role to chow through as we aim for not only better representation in cinema but a better recognition of the wider variety of talents from diverse backgrounds.