Friday, 17 March 2017

Children of Heaven (1997)

Fig 1 - Children of Heaven Poster
When I think back to the movies that shaped by childhood, I am reminded of the levels of fantasy in which those narratives usually played out. Whether it be talking animals, hi-tech gadgets or the discovery of magic, there always seemed to be some extraordinary plot device that removed the central characters outside of reality in some way. What's interesting about Children of Heaven is it's ability to do exactly the opposite. It's a film very much grounded in reality, with realistic consequences to realistic decisions. And it's a sweet story, really.

Written and directed by Majid Majidi, the film begins in Tehran where a young boy named Ali (Amir Farrokh Hashemian) is visiting the cobbler's to get his sister's shoes fixed. On the way home, he misplaces the shoes whilst collecting groceries and soon reluctantly informs Zahra (Bahare Seddiqi) of his mistake. At this point we are introduced to Ali's sickly mother (Fereshte Sarabandi), who we learn is behind on the rent, and his father (Mohammad Amir Naji) who works as a waiter to his own dismay. Due to their financial situation, Ali realises the trouble he'll be in if their parents find out he lost the shoes, so his sister agrees to keep quiet about it. As a compromise, Zahra begins wearing Ali's shoes to school in the mornings and then runs home to let Ali wear them in the afternoons. However this often makes Ali late for school, which is not looked upon greatly by the headmaster and lands him in trouble on several occasions. Towards the end, the school sets up a running competition in which, would you believe it, the third place prize is in fact a brand new pair of sneakers. Ali then puts it upon himself to enter the race in order to come third and thus give his sister the shoes.

Fig 2 - Children of Heaven - Ali and Zahra
It's a simple story, and one which outlines the relationship between brother and sister without resorting to bickering and resentment. It makes no big deal out of their living situation, which essentially confines the family to one room, but amplifies the sense of community and goodness around them that makes life worth living. There is a scene in which Zahra discovers one of her school-mates is wearing the shoes Ali misplaced, which leads her to follow the girl home and discover that her father is blind. Comparable to the scene in Bicycle Thieves in which Antonio discovers the poor living conditions of the seizure-prone thief, Zahra decides to drop any potential confrontations regarding the shoes. However, later on the girl tells Zahra, to her horror, that her father bought her new shoes and threw out the old ones. Themes of this class divide can also be seen when Ali and his father go door-to-door in a high-end neighbourhood looking for potential gardening work. Well, I say door-to-door, rather intercom-to-intercom since every house is something of a paradise Fort Knox.

For what is essentially a kids film, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It doesn't tie up every loose end like it could, but it never feels necessary. And though the narrative isn't particularly special, it gives a grounded and feel-good insight into the Iranian culture and has a genuinely thrilling pay-off to boot.



Fig. 1 Children of Heaven Poster (1997) From: Children of Heaven - Directed by: Majid Majidi

Fig. 2 Children of Heaven Screenshot (1997) From: Children of Heaven - Directed by: Majid Majidi

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