Petty sibling rivalry escalates to threaten an entire family’s future in Simo, written and directed by Aziz Zoromba. In the aftermath, Simo (Basal El Rayes), his father (Aldeen Tawfeek), and his brother Emad (Seif El Rayes) must choose to mend their fractured bonds or give up on each other. With the help of cinematographer Alexandre Nour Desjardins, Zoromba’s film addresses how an increasingly interconnected world can be equally hostile.
Simo’s Egyptian family live in the snowy suburbs of Quebec, and while his brother and himself converse in French, they speak to their father in Arabic. Their father doesn’t understand or appreciate the boy’s interest in rap music and violent video games, and while he wants to spend more quality time with them — proposing movie nights and communal chores — his harsh and demanding parenting style keeps them at a distance. All three men are acutely aware of the prejudice they face as Arabs in a predominantly white neighborhood. But when Simo tells a lie while live streaming a video game in an attempt to bolster his viewer count, the family must choose to heal in peace amidst the rest of the world’s hostility.
What Simo lacks in steady dialogue it makes up for with an intimate shot composition and articulate body language. From the start, Simo is standoffish and timid. He is never the center of attention or even taking up much space in the frame: instead, he seems to materialize into every scene. The cinematography by Desjardins is diligent and poignant. He opens the film with Simo centered in a foreground shot, but blurry and muted by a swirl of snowfall. In the film’s multiple car scenes, Simo is relegated to the backseat. When the camera attempts to capture him from the front row, Simo remains shaded by blurry headrests or a dirty car window. No matter how close it gets, the camera never seems to capture him completely.
Emad does not possess the same self-consciousness, as he curls dumbbells shirtless in the middle of the boy’s shared bedroom, or cuts his father off and chooses to bicker with him. There is clearly a rank amongst the men in the house. Emad has Simo’s back against school bullies, but Simo is the punching bag the second anything goes wrong at home. As the source of his brother’s misdirected anger, it is only a matter of time before Simo goes one step too far to show his family he also can be the bully.
Simo builds suspense and depth simultaneously. It doesn’t over complicate the issues it addresses, or turn its message into an overdone cliche. In its resolution, it does a brilliant job of simplifying the serious consequences its characters face: either abandon the ones you love when they disappoint you, or stand by them as they learn and grow. Both Basel and Seif El Rayes, as well as Tawfeek, have a natural chemistry that translates to their vicious arguments, but doesn’t dominate their roles so as to make the last sequences feel forced or insincere. Simo is a short film with a wide scope, using its family trio to contend with transnational global tides of the twenty first century.