Children of Heaven
1997, NR, 87 min. Directed by Majid Majidi. Starring Amir Naji, Amir Farrokh Hashemian, Bahareh Seddiqi, Nafiseh Jafar Mohammadi.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 30, 1999
Although many of the films we've been seeing from the recently resurgent Iranian cinema feature children as their protagonists (all the better to avoid problems with the censors), Children of Heaven is the first one that I've seen that seems to be telling the story from the children's point of view. In this it sidesteps the allegorical strategies inherent in the tactic; Children of Heaven is simply a story about a predicament faced by two children and the naive but very believable strategies they use to circumvent their problem. A young boy loses his sister's only pair of shoes on his way home from the cobbler when he stops at the grocer's to get potatoes for his mother. Afraid to tell their impoverished parents because of the hardship it would cause, the children decide to share the boy's one pair of sneakers. Amazingly, a whole movie is constructed around this ruse and the additional troubles it provokes. Heartwrenching scenes of the siblings trading off shoes in the alley as one races home from school and the other races off are filled with more drama than one might expect. The girl sees her threadbare shoes one day on the feet of the rag-picker's daughter; the boy's school career is jeopardized by his constant tardiness. The poverty that is at the heart of the situation is in prominent relief, yet there is a happiness about their lives that defies sheer gloss. Here is a brother and sister who truly love each other and are bonded by their complicity. Their hard lives are relieved by such things as playing with the bubbles they create with the soap as they wash the workaholic sneakers. It's poignant but not unhappy. These two know no other reality. Their spunk and ingenuity will likely keep them afloat -- as will their family's love and devotion. Children of Heaven sets these tykes on a quest, yet for a change in the Iranian cinema there is the sense that these children are not merely stand-ins for adults.