The Zigzag Kid won Last year's European Film Academy Young Audience Award, for which 12- to 14-year-old kids from nine European cities pick their favorite from the Academy's nominated films. The Dutch-Belgian fantasy proves that it's still possible to make an inspired and authentic family-oriented film, despite recent evidence to the contrary from Hollywood. (See Disney's Saving Mr. Banks, or rather, don't.) Based on the popular novel by Israeli author David Grossman, writer/director Vincent Bal's 95-minute magic trick seems to take place in a whimsical alternate universe where anything is possible, though it looks a lot like 1970s Europe.
Nono (Thomas Simon) is a 12-year-old boy whose father happens to be the world's greatest detective. After his overactive imagination leads him to disrupt his cousin's bar mitzvah in spectacular style, Nono's father sends him away to live with his uncle, a boring psychologist. Or does he? While en route, Nono discovers a note from his dad inviting him to solve a mystery unfolding on the train. The wild and fast-paced adventure that follows may allow Nono the chance to discover his own formerly secret family history. The Zigzag Kid is so well-written and keenly imagined, it keeps you guessing at what's really happening to Nono and who exactly is pulling the strings.
The Zigzag Kid eventually touches on some dark themes, and its use of various languages necessitates intermittent subtitles. But those elements are key to building the movie's sophisticated charm and its sturdy connection to real-life experience. Young people deserve no less. — KEN KORMAN