The Children of Heaven

on January 22, 1999 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
   Yet another fine film from Iran, "The Children of Heaven" deals with that country's favourite subject, children and their difficult, sometimes perilous path through an indifferent adult world. When a young man loses his sister's only--and recently mended--pair of shoes, the siblings have to share the boy's footwear, because they scared to tell their father about the loss and can't afford to buy a replacement pair for the girl. Their plan soon becomes untenable, so it's up to the boy to find a way to get his sister a new pair of shoes.
   From that unlikely premise, writer/director Majid Majidi fashions a fascinating film about the lower rungs of society, where what you wear on your feet says much about your status. And never has owning a pair of shoes seemed so important. As the camera lingers on each individual's shoes, Majidi sneaks in potent criticism of an Iranian society populated with beggars, angry storekeepers and teachers who favor some students over others. It's a provocative portrait of modern Iran but one that doesn't lose sight of its main characters: the youngsters who are more moral than the elders but are never unbearably or unbelievably nice.
   "The Children of Heaven" bears some similarities to Jafar Panahi's "The White Balloon," which dealt with an Iranian girl's attempts to retrieve money she lost with which she was expected to purchase some goldfish for the holidays. Majidi may be a more stolid director than the imaginative Panahi, but his script probes deeper, obliquely attacking the capitalist basis of Islamic Iran.
   Boasting Iranian cinema's traditional virtues of superb acting and smart writing, "The Children of Heaven" is evidence that what seems to be a thin skein, children on quests, is still capable of resulting in rich moviemaking. The well has not yet come up dry.    Starring Mohammad Amir Naji, Mir Farrokh Hashemian and Bahare Seddiqi. Directed and written by Majid Majidi. Produced by Seyed Sared Seyedzadeh. A Miramax release. Drama. Farsi-language; English subtitles. Not yet rated. Running time: 90 min. Screened at Montreal.
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