Monday, May 16, 2005

Children of Heaven (1997)

Majid Majidi knows how to tell a story. His 1997 film “Bacheha-Ye Aseman” focuses on the relationship of two children, Ali and Zahra who are brother and sister. Ali accidentally loses his sister’s shoes in the beginning of the film. They are too poor to get new ones (and too afraid to ask their parents for replacements). They come up with a plan; they’ll both share Ali’s pair of sneakers.

“Children of Heaven” is rich and has a number of different scenes, including a phenomenal long-distance foot race at the end of the film. There are dusty country scenes, lush upper-class neighborhoods and an urban metropolis contrasted throughout the film. The movie gives us a better image of the diversity of Iran, as opposed to the one-dimensional depiction of a Middle Eastern country in most films.

I don’t know if I would call “Children of Heaven” a children’s movie, but it is definitely accessible to most children. This is remarkable considering that many Iranian films I’ve seen, like those by Abbas Kiarostami, are highly artistic and sometimes impenetrable. I don’t mean to take away from Abbas Kiarostami’s films because they are fantastic meditations on existence, history, class and sadness. However, Majidi’s films give you a more classical appreciation for a simple story and a more easy to grasp narrative. "Children of Heaven" is about a more universal theme, not one saddled with Iranian religious, gender or political upheaval. Majidi does a great job of not putting too much emphasis on those issues, but does not try to avoid them either. Nothing is swept under the carpet. Granted social class and wealth play a big part in the structure of the film, especially when Zahra discovers the whereabouts of her missing shoes.

What I like most about this movie is that it gives us a reality check; not every foreign film has to be about oppression to be hard-hitting. What are coming across the screen are not abstract concepts, but pure emotion.

I hope none of you see this movie because it is representative of Iran or Iranian film or Middle Eastern culture. I fear that a word that might come to mind in describing this film is “simple.” But that word is deceptive. Sure the movie has a straightforward story and easily delineated scenes. If by “simple” you mean “accessible,” then I think it is an accurate description of the film. If by “simple” you mean “quaint,” then I think you missed the point.

This film is remarkably similar to Xiashuai Wang’s 2001 film “Shiqi Sui De Dan Che” or “Beijing Bicycle” (2001), where a young bike messenger has his bike stolen, finds it and comes to an agreement with the theif concerning the use of the bike. I’d recommend Wang's film as well. For more information on both films, see

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