Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Children of Heaven

Children of Heaven (Bacheha-Ye aseman) was released in 1997. The Iranian film received critical acclaim, getting an Oscar nomination as well as winning several lesser known awards. The 89 minute film was released in the United States in 1999. So, it has only taken me ten years to get around to this one. In cases like this, it is truly better late than never.

Children of Heaven is a tender down-on-your-luck story written and directed by Majid Majidi. Ali (Mir Farrokh Hashemian) is a saucer-eyed nine-year-old that shoulders far more responsibility than a boy his age should have to carry. His father (Amir Naji) struggles to provide for the family. They are behind on their rent and have run up a tab at the local grocer that has reached a breaking point. Ali’s mother (Fereshte Sarabandi) has recently given birth and has some lingering health issues. Ali also has a younger sister, Zahra (Bahare Seddiqi).

Ali is tasked with picking up bread, potatoes and a pair of Zahra’s shoes that are being repaired at the cobbler. When Ali realizes that Zahra’s shoes are missing, he panics. Ali is afraid to tell his father because he thinks he will be beaten (although his father is a fundamentally good man). Zahra is upset and needs shoes to wear to school. Because they attend school at different times of day, they agree to share Ali’s shoes. This arrangement leads to several close encounters and subsequent problems for both children. When Ali sees the chance to win a pair of shoes in a contest, he manages to get himself entered in an effort to replace his sister’s shoes.

Children of Heaven touches audiences on many levels. The examination of poverty measured against the strong morality provides interesting depth to the characters and subject matter. Although impoverished, Ali’s father will not take anything that does not belong to him, not even a cube of sugar. The family even reaches out to their neighbors, bringing them stew when they are barely getting by themselves. The work ethics and sense of individual responsibility, even that responsibility assumed by a child that does not belong to him (or her), struck a chord with me. Yet there did not seem to be a strand of Karma running through this film, which I thought there might be. It seemed, instead, that the plot centered on familial relationships and personal bonds. The plot was interesting, but does not go the direction one might think it is heading…yet still leads to the same place. It was a fun, somewhat short film that I easily connected with.

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