Excellent location work forms the backbone to a deceptively simple multiclass look at the dreams and ambitions of average Tunisians in Mohamed Zran's tender sophomore feature "The Prince." Unpretentious and thoroughly winning, this is a fine choice for festivals.

Excellent location work forms the backbone to a deceptively simple multiclass look at the dreams and ambitions of average Tunisians in Mohamed Zran’s tender sophomore feature “The Prince.” Using a likable florist as the center of a wheel that radiates out toward various characters all yearning for a life unconfined by preprogrammed limits, Zran builds a portrait of an entire people searching for something better, yet uncertain how to articulate their desires. Unpretentious and thoroughly winning, this is a fine choice for festivals.

Much of the action takes place along Tunis’ main boulevard, where Adel (Abdelmonaam Chouayet) works at a flower stand. Living with his struggling family and blowing more money than he should on drink, he’s merely coasting through life until he delivers a bouquet to Donia (Sonia Mankai), a sophisticated divorced bank manager and the object of his waking dreams. Not knowing any other way to make her notice him, Adel continues to deliver flowers to her office, claiming they come from an anonymous source.

Others in Adel’s life are also caught between dreams and reality, unsure how to escape the difficulties of life in the not-quite third world of Tunisia. Raouf (Ahmed Snoussi) is the publisher of a literary magazine, but despite holding considerable cultural clout, he can’t find funding and contemplates a wrenching move to Canada. His brash cousin Mounir (Nasredine Shili), Adel’s drinking buddy, works as a chauffeur, envying everyone with more dough than he has.

Even Donia, the most well-off of the characters, is searching for something to make her life meaningful. Tough and businesslike at the bank, she’s a vulnerable single mother still class-bound enough to not even imagine it’s the humble florist who’s both sender and delivery boy of her mysterious bouquets.

Despite an occasionally disjointed screenplay, Zran permeates his film with a collective sense of waiting. When Mounir mentions an earlier deportation from Paris, and a prostitute companion chimes in with her own deportation story from Rome, these matter-of-fact tales represent the frustrated longings of working-class people unable to break free from the dead-end lives they see stretching before them in their own country. Which is why Adel’s boldness in wooing his dream comes as such a fillip to his companions.

Performances, including Chouayet’s hesitant yet courageous Adel and Mankai’s imperious yet lonely Donia are beautifully conceived, and Zran obviously spent time with his actors to achieve excellent ensemble work. Smooth, elegant lensing by Tarek Ben Abdallah makes the most out of the busy street life, and though certain sets can look sparse, the limited budget never gets in the way of tech aspects.

The Prince

Tunisia

Production

A Sangho Films presentation of a Sangho Films (Tunisia)/Mandala Prods. (France) co-production, in cooperation with Anpa-Soread 2M. Executive producer, Jamel Zran. Directed, written by Mohamed Zran.

Crew

Camera (color), Tarek Ben Abdallah; editor, Andree Davanture; music, Rabi Zammouri; production designer, Dorsaf Abderrazek; costume designer, Lilia Lakhoua; sound (Dolby SR), Francois Guillaume. Reviewed at Cairo Film Festival (competing), Dec. 6, 2004. Running time: 109 MIN.

With

Abdelmonaam Chouayet, Sonia Mankai, Moustapha Adwani, Ahmed Snoussi, Taieb Weslati, Nasredine Shili, Salwa Mohamed, Alaa Eddine Ayoub, Slim Mahfoudh, Abdallah Mimoun, Ilheme Chrif, Nidhal Guigua, Houda Ben Amor, Amel Fargi. (Arabic, French dialogue)
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