Fast-paced, whimsical coming-of-ager “Nono, the ZigZag Kid” is a charming period picaresque that offers old-fashioned entertainment for tweens and adults. A “zigzag” person is one who sticks out amid society’s symmetries; here, a soon-to-be bar mitzvah boy discovers the truth behind his own zigzag nature when he is swept into rollicking adventures with a notorious jewel thief and a seductive chanteuse. Belgian helmer Vincent Bal’s fine adaptation of the bestseller by Israeli author David Grossman boasts plenty of English dialogue and could do niche arthouse business Stateside. Euro outings and fest play are guaranteed.
Raised by his workaholic Dutch police-detective dad (Fedja van Huet) and Dad’s enterprising secretary-wannabe girlfriend, Gabi (Jessica Zeylmaker, sassy), smart, imaginative 13-year-old Amnon “Nono” Feierberg (poised newcomer Thomas Simon) has been trained in investigative procedure since he was an infant. But even his best sleuthing skills come to naught when he tries to learn more about his deceased mother, Zohara (Camille de Pazzis).
When a train trip to visit his boring Uncle Shmuel morphs into a mystery-solving challenge arranged by his father and Gabi, Nono couldn’t be more delighted. Which is why he willing follows twinkly eyed arch-criminal Felix Glick (Burghart Klaussner, “The White Ribbon”), only to discover that this particular escapade-mentor wasn’t part of his father’s master plan after all.
After some derring-do to exit the train, Felix and Nono travel in disguise to the South of France, where they meet celebrated performer Lola Ciperola (a beaming Isabella Rossellini, who provides a tuneful production number), one of Gabi’s great idols. Before long, Nono puts two and two together and realizes who holds the key to the enigma of his own identity.
Neatly transferring the narrative’s action from Israel to mid-1970s Europe, Bal (“Miss Minoes”) and co-scribe Jon Gilbert capture the essence of Grossman’s novel, as Nono’s quest to discover “Who am I?” turns into reflections on good and evil and the nature of happiness and self-acceptance. Pacey editing, colorful production design and impressive widescreen lensing prove alert to quirks of character, and serve to bring this audience-pleasing romp off in style.
After opening the Netherlands Film Festival, the pic rolls out in the Netherlands and Belgium in October.