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