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Bacheha-Ye aseman (Children of Heaven)
It was with some trepidation that I popped this DVD into the player - it was, after all, my first venture into Iranian cinema, so I was a little unsure what to expect. I am used to, and for the most part, enjoy foreign films. They open up an incredible world of cinema that one would otherwise miss. After five minutes, it was fairly evident that this film was something a bit special. The story is simple. While at market shopping, Ali loses his sisters school shoes. After desperately trying in vain to find them, he decides that he and his sister will share his sneakers, meeting her after to school each day to recover them from her, in order to get to school himself. That is pretty much a synopsis of the entire movie. It doesn't end there however...
This film is played with such beauty and innocence; it is a true pleasure to watch. Mohammad Amir Naji plays Ali with such incredible depth and passion, one is completely drawn into his plight. From the start of the film, we see the relationship between brother and sister, played with equal warmth by Bahare Seddiqi, strained as he explains how he lost her shoes. The sorrow on Ali's face, and Zahra's tears at the news, are truly heartbreaking to watch. The expressions on the faces of the children are so genuine, it is clear that spending a cinematic hour and half will be a pleasure, albeit not an easy one.
We see Ali and his Father looking for work as gardeners. From the outset it is clear that Ali's Father is strict, but it is also evident he loves his son dearly, and the simple exchange of smiles as they find their first job is heart-warming, and totally believable. Cycling through the city, it is very striking that there is a clear division between rich and poor. We are watching a boy, to afraid to tell his father of the loss of a pair of shoes, riding through streets with billboards advertising cell phones, into rural areas where houses with swimming pools, ornate architecture and luxury are rife.
There is so much in Western civilisation that we take for granted. What to us are simple daily belongings to others is pure decadence. Aside from anything else, this film is a window into a world so many of us do not understand. Simple things bring Ali pleasure, blowing bubbles, swinging on swings with his new found friend, the smiles and laughter of the children is absorbing.
Later in the film we see Ali enter a race in order to win a pair of brand new sneakers for his sister. To win them, he must come third. Again we see the division of wealth, as Ali races through the streets, the thoughts and images of his sister swirling in his head, and on screen, while at the same time, parents of other children film the race on camcorders, all the time Ali running, fighting for the shoes he needs so desperately.
The film is directed perfectly, and the credit for this goes to Majid Majidi, whose films have won acclaim worldwide. There are no special effects, no luxurious settings. There are times when the film feels like a documentary in the direction, and that works in its favour. This film would make an excellent introduction into the world of foreign cinema. Throughout the movie, the expressions and emotions displayed by the children speak far louder than any dialogue ever could.
The film is not dialogue intensive, and one could easily watch the film, and understand the story, even without the aid of subtitles. This film was nominated for an Academy Award, and it not difficult to see why. Ignoring for a moment the subtitles and language barriers, since they are not overly crucial to the film, this is a story of true innocence, and tugs hard at the heartstrings, sometimes to breaking point. The portrayal of the children is gentle, warm and absolutely believable, and one cannot help but be drawn into this tale, as it gently unwinds. It is sometimes tough to watch the emotions played out, but ultimately, worth every second.
Missing this film, particularly if simply put off by the fact it is foreign language, would a sad deprivation of the senses and the heart. It is not just a film, it is an experience, and one that is completely passionate, and totally unforgettable.
I truly cannot recommend this highly enough. It is widely available on DVD or VHS - rent it, borrow it or buy it - you will be glad that you did!
Reviewed by Ollie
This movie quietly puts to shame the majority of junk spewing out of
Hollywood. A fat wad of cash thrown at big names and special effects
move the human soul like the innocence and sincerety displayed by Majidi's
cast and direction. It's a shame that there are not more movies like
The plot is simple, the actors sincere and the tone spot-on. This movie works because we're drawn into the world of Ali, his life and his surrounding. Kudos to Majidi's craftsmanship. Ali's plight, though simple (if not trivial to most of us), becomes his obsession because of his love and respect for his sister and his family. We would do well to be so moved! The climax of the movie is brilliant! Ali's grueling determination to win a race and get shoes for his sister results in an unwanted triumph! (Sorry - no spoilers here. You'll have to see the movie). I must be getting older, because I'm moved with emotions just describing the movie -- and it's been months since I've seen it!
The redemption of Ali's resulting emotion and confusion will be lost on an innatentive viewer, so *PAY CLOSE ATTENTION* to the last 10 minutes of the movie.
Beauty doesn't have to forcibly blow you away. This movie is simply beautiful, and it will blow you away.
The wonderful Iranian film "Children of Heaven" and its companion
piece, "The White Balloon", remind one of those great Czechoslovakian
films of the 1960's ("The Shop on Main Street," "Loves of a Blonde,"
etc.) in that they achieve their artistry by providing keenly observed
glimpses into the minutiae of everyday life. They also help to humanize
a culture often regarded as alien and even incomprehensible to western
eyes. Above all, this magnificent film reminds us that real drama comes
not in the form of over-plotted special effects-laden extravaganzas,
but from films that examine the universal simplicities of life as we
all know it. When it is distilled through the eyes of a poet - this is
when art is achieved.
"Children of Heaven" has its roots planted firmly in the neorealist tradition. Its simple story echoes not merely the earlier "The White Balloon" but the original Italian classic, "The Bicycle Thief." In this film, young Ali accidentally loses his sister's recently mended shoes; out of this tale of utmost simplicity, the filmmakers take us on a fascinating tour of life in a typical Iranian village and family. As Ali and his sister scheme to overcome this obstacle, the film touches on any number of universal themes: the close ties of siblings united in their common bond of avoiding often irrational parental anger; well meaning, loving parents overwhelmed with the trials of everyday life who are often compelled to act out in ways that seem cruel to the children who adore them; the petty viciousness with which children often strike out at each other, yet, at the same time, the often unexpected kindness and empathy with which they also treat one another. The film manages to keep the audience constantly engrossed in its action without once resorting to even a smidgen of incredibility or melodrama. Beautifully directed, with a superb soundtrack filled with heightened naturalistic noises, it is a film of many-splendored wonders, its lyricism caught in a glimpse of soap bubbles floating around a backyard produced by two children abandoned to their moment of incomprehensible youthful joy, its high drama found in a shoe racing down a city sewer with a desperate young girl in tow.
The actors, children and adults alike, underplay their roles in so naturalistic a fashion that one does not even feel they are performing at all; the film, through them, becomes a magical fabric of life that draws the audience deep into its world.
"Children of Heaven" brilliantly demonstrates that works of art often arise from the observation of the most seemingly mundane concerns of daily life and reminds us that this provides far more drama than all the exploding spaceships, car chases and hyperkinetic melodrama that flood the screen in the guise of entertainment. It certainly shows just how phony, empty and bereft of life most American films are. Don't miss "Children of Heaven"! It is a richly rewarding experience.
I find it most difficult and awkward to make comment on films that I
personally do not like. That is why I could talk for days about this
wonderful Oscar Submission!
Children Of Heaven is one of those rare films that not only I want to talk about, but everyone else who has seen it seems to be raving about. This tender and triumphant little jewel of a film had every head turning at the recent 1999 Nortel Palm Springs International Film Festival, January 7th-18th. After it's first showing at the festival, people were indeed talking!
"Did you see that film from Iran?" "No, any good?" "Just wait, go see it, we'll talk later!"
The Children Of Heaven follows the relationship between an impoverished brother and sister, Ali and Zahra, who are thrust into a difficult circumstance all revolving around a pair of sneakers. How they choose to solve their problem themselves, without telling their parents, is what makes the story so heart-warming and unique. What follows is a tender, moving tale of compassion, determination, and deep family love.
Bravo writer/director Majid Majidi!
I just saw this film in South Korea at a church. The film is spoken in Farsi, the subtitles were in Korean. It didn't matter that I couldn't understand a single word, because the cinematography and the faces of the children, their parents and the other cast members did all the talking. A wonderful film that dispelled my notions of Tehran as a dark and forbidding place - actually it's quite beautiful! We Americans have not seen Iran since 1979 and it is my hope that soon we can restore relations again. I wouldn't mind visiting.
What a marvelous thing film can be. It can touch us and open our hearts to a culture that is both different and familiar to ours. CHILDREN OF HEAVEN, a film by Iranian filmmaker, Majid Majidi, takes us into the world of a little boy and his sister, letting us feel the love and trust that they have in each other. The boy, through no fault of his own, loses his little sister's newly repaired school shoes the day before she needs them. It becomes their secret. They try sharing a pair of his sneakers -- the girl wearing them in the morning and he in the afternoon to school. The wonderful, innocent faces of the beautiful Iranian children and their code of honor, even in poverty, provides the bases for a very uplifting tale of children trying to overcome a crisis. The direction, cinematography, music are all outstanding -- but it is the children that you will fall in love with. Well worth picking up on DVD (though there are no "Extras" to speak of).
This translates to MUST-SEE! It's a credulous incredible storytelling of a
young brother and sister in Tehran, and the adventurous saga around one very important pair of sneakers.
The two young actors are amazing -- they play their guileless naïve sensitivity with such earnestness! Central character, Ali, the 9 year old brother, is Mir Farrokh Hashemian, who really carried the film with his legwork, and the younger sister Zahra is Bahareh Seddiqui, who contributed her restrained share of screen presence. The pair is so natural: those furrowed faces, anxious knitted brows -- the range of sad faces the two came up with! The bond between the brother and sister is so warm and joyful - in spite of misfortunes.
The storyline is seemingly simple. Such story-weaving knack writer-director Majid Majidi has -- he can make chasing along a streaming gutter into an intense dramatic episode! The story has the texture likened to a Thomas Hardy novel (poverty setting, episode after episode, turn of events), yet such a relishingly simple delivery. He doesn't have to tell it all on the screen -- little nuances and observations suffice.
It's heartening to see young children who are polite and respectful to their elders, responsible and caring in dealing with their everyday problems, and not give up -- such quiet fortitude in spite of disappointments, such tolerance of their circumstance yet still able to find joy in little things. We catch a smile here and there, e.g., when they enjoy the impromptu soap bubbles, or when he encouraged his sister by giving her small tokens.
This is an absolute gem of a family (value) film. Children's emotions untapped, yet adults are not left out -- touches of grown-up connections: the parents, the elderly couple next door, the shop-owners, all made this world very real.
The camerawork, and the well-designed use of sound mixed with accompanying music (different tonal quality instruments were applied) complemented this cinematic experience. A poetic ending -- there's a serenity about it all.
I hope "Children of Heaven" will win this year's 71st Academy Award Best Foreign Film Oscar -- it will receive its due exposure and more people will experience this gem.
Along the lines of poverty and shoes, I thought of the Italian 1978's "The Tree of the Wooden Clogs" by writer-director Ermanno Olmi. And, on a story with substance and good acting by an Iranian young boy, there's 1989's "Bashu, The Little Stranger", by writer-director Bahram Beizai. Both are movies to be appreciated.
Wow, what can I say? Every bit of this film is so warm! It really looked at the world from a child's perspective. Every single scene is inundated with sweetness and the innocence of children. How they share one pair of shoes was amazing...and heartbreaking. How the little sister had no confidence in her brothers shoes was shown in such a warm and effective way. The ultimate despair Ali felt when he won was also so heartbreaking. Ali and his sister are both so cute and they can really act. This film can easily move one to tears. Do watch it!
Majid Majidi is a genius. He is a director and actor of great talent. This film presents a sweet story of a brother and sister, their bond and their unique solution to solving the problem of a pair of lost shoes. The child actors are adorable and utterly convincing and the production of the film is of such quality that you get lost in watching it. The story itself is humorous, at times, and inspiring. Though the premise may be simple, each scene is infused with such passion, beauty and emotion that the experience of viewing this film is anything but simple. To all who have yet to view the film, take note of the very last scene.
Majid Majidi's Children of Heaven is such an extraordinary work of movie-making that it is in a realm of movies that are able to connect with anyone who remembers (or is amidst) their childhood, regardless of what country they come from. (Note: Films that have a universal appeal aren't necessarily better than films that only appeal to people from one or two countries, but making a film with a universal appeal is no easy task.) A boy named Ali (Amir Farrokh Hashemian) loses his sister Zahra's ((Bahare Seddiqi) running shoes; Zahra threatens to tell their father (Mohammad Amir Naji). Petrified at his father's temper, Ali promises his sister that he will get his sister some new shoes as soon as possible. In the meantime, the two work out a tight shoe-switching schedule. The plot is inventive and provides some decent chuckles-good writing and comic timing. Hashemian is likable and relatable though he milks the babyish whimpering to an annoying extent. Naji is able to give us a stronger feeling that we are watching a real person on screen than any of the other actors in the film. It is not until the last ten minutes of the film, however, that we are swept up in a crazy whirlwind of emotion, jolting from despair to joy to suspense (though not in that order) and the last ten minutes can make a movie great. Majidi gives us homage to The Four Hundred Blows. The ending to Majidi's movie is somewhat similar to that of Francois Truffaut's; both movies contain the feeling of extreme desperation, but Ali has a goal in his life while Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is boldly going nowhere. Truffaut's film concludes with brilliant ambiguity, leaving us wondering whether Doinel's last five minutes on screen were triumphant or pathetic; Majidi does something quite similar (less ambitiously) in a way I would not dream of revealing.
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