Elegance, restraint, poetic beauty, vibrant frames, simplicity, innocence, perseverance, sibling love. Majid Majidi’s Iranian gem has so much to offer. Children of Heaven trails siblings, Ali (Amir Farrokh Hashemian) and Zahra (Bahare Seddiqi) who hail from a poor family.
After 9-year Ali loses Zarah’s pair of shoes, he goes on a series of adventures to find them. This simple story plays out so tenderly, it tugs at your heartstrings.
Having lost his sister’s only pair of shoes and with no money to buy new ones, Ali decides to share his shoes with her. Thanks to their different school hours, both try to juggle timings and attend school in the same pair. He’s often rebuked by the head master for reaching late. Ali never owns up why.
Ali, meanwhile, is a good student. On one occasion, his teacher gifts him a pen for scoring good grades. He gives it to Zahra to make it up to her for the lost shoes. The film is made up of these small, beautiful moments that are portrayed so effectively, so achingly.
Another such moment is when Zahra, one day, spots one of her classmates wearing her lost shoes or those similar to hers, she believes. She tells Ali and the two follow the girl to her house the next day. What they see there drives a change of heart and they glumly yet understandingly walk back home.
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Yet another moment is of Zahra running back home after school one day, when her (Ali’s) shoes accidentally float away in a drainage channel. She would’ve almost lost them had it not been for a passerby who comes to her rescue. Ali and Zahra clean the shoes and keep it for drying through the night to be able to wear them the next day.
Ali’s father (Reza Naji) meanwhile, struggles to get by. One day, on their way back home from work, when Ali mentions about Zahra’s lost shoes, his father promises he’d buy them both a new pair. Ali’s happiness, though, is transitory after they’re met with an accident.
After all failed efforts, he finds out one day about an inter-school racing competition, the third prize for which is a pair of sneakers. He knows this is his chance, to make it up to his sister (but as luck would have it, he finishes first in the race).
In their little failures (and victories), though, there’s so much the film teaches you; there’s so much these little children teach you and with such grace and subtlety.
This is storytelling at its finest and Majid Majidi cinema at its best.
Children of Heaven is a triumph and celebration of the human spirit; of love, compassion and empathy. Two decades on, the film holds as much relevance and even more for the times we live in.
First Iranian film to be nominated for an Oscar and a timeless classic, Children of Heaven is recommended viewing.
By Remya Radhakrishnan