Iranian filmmaker, Majid Majidi’s Children of Heaven is a 1997 film that tells the story of Ali and Zahra, two siblings growing up in an impoverished Tehran. The film opens in a cobbler’s shop, where Ali has come to get his sister’s shoes repaired. These shoes form the pivot around which the plot revolves. The travails of the youngsters as they go in search of the lost shoes and how they overcome this loss makes for a story that will pull at all your heartstrings by turn.
Children of Heaven was premiered in 1997 at the Tehran Fajr Film Festival and won several national film awards. It was the first Iranian film to be nominated for an Academy Award for the Best Foreign Film category. This movie was also highly praised at various international film festivals including the World Film Festival, the Newport International Film Festival, the Warsaw International Film Festival, and the Singapore International Film Festival. Children of Heaven inspired Singaporean filmmaker Jack Neo to make ‘I Not Stupid’ (a movie exploring the issues faced by Singaporean youth) in 2002.
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Amir Farrokh Hashemian, who plays Ali, shows a maturity much beyond his years, with utter control over his character, breathing life into it as indeed many experienced actors have failed to do. He is the perfect elder brother who gives away a hard-earned gift to his little sister to cheer her up and then takes part in a race so that he can win a pair of shoes for her. His despair on the loss of the shoes, the ensuing planning and struggle and the final heartbreak of not winning third place in the race has been captured very well. Zahra, on her part, also brings forth an innocence that will leave you bleary-eyed. One scene that is especially poignant is when the two go to confront a girl they believe has Zahra’s shoes, but when they realize her father is the blind garbage picker, they quietly turn back. The beautiful relationship between this brother and sister will leave a bittersweet taste on your tongue, a feeling of hiraeth for the days gone by.
What is truly commendable about this film, though, is how it makes a commentary on the disparities that prevail around us, whether we are in India or Iran, without descending into the maudlin. We see Karim, the children’s father who is lost on his first sojourn into the alien world of the rich when he goes looking for a job as a gardener. Sitting amidst all the comforts, one is transported to a simpler time and a simpler place, when rampant consumerism had not yet touched many lives and these material comforts soon seem like an illusion.