“Children of Heaven” exploits innocence to crush your soul to bits
It’s rare to find a movie that is centered around something as simple as a pair of shoes that mean the world to you in that hour and a half you’re watching a film. No, I’m not talking about Cinderella, for this particular film is anything but a Disney fairytale.
Children of Heaven is a 1997 Persian language film directed by Majid Majidi, and starring Amir Farokh Hashemian and Bahare Saddiqi as Ali, 9 (aprx.), and Zahra, 6 (aprx.), two siblings living in a situation of severe poverty. The film talks about a pair of shoes the two share when Ali loses his sister’s only pair. Careful not to let their parents — especially their father — know, the two navigate their lives around the shoes, making sure to exchange them when necessary, all while evading their father’s stern eye.
From the very first five minutes, the film puts its script and its talented cast to use and makes its way to your heart, establishing a strong bond between you and the characters early on. The acting in the movie is superb. Young Hashemian captivates as Ali, a protective older brother ridden with guilt for losing his sister’s shoes. He brings the innocence of the character through, and manages to portray him in a very believable, raw manner. From the beginning of the movie through the end, he shines and makes you root for him. The role aside, the actor displayed some serious chops.
Bahare also does a really nice job with her role. She makes it her own, delivering a Zahra that possesses both the naivety of her years and the professionalism and experience far beyond them. Although Hashemian steals the show, Bahare manages to hold her own.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the film was the score. I say that because the score is almost non-existent for the most part of the movie. The movie is characterized by foley sounds (that is, sounds that are emitted from normal daily activity. In this movie, footsteps constitute a huge part of foley sounds). And it’s especially intruiging because I only notoced it when the first song played in the background.
Another particularly noteworthy aspect of the movie was te canerawork. The angles the director used to shoot the film were really interesting. Some shots were truly beautiful. That said, the editing — although mostly good — ruined some of the shots, especially a particular scene where the father and Ali are on a bike.
The setting captured the situations of such families quite well. It felt like I was in an actual ghetto of sorts, not a set or a stylized location. I found the mise-en-scéne quite visibly believable and authentic.
The movie is not a light one. It does make you feel quite down, and while I was reading translations, the script did its part in showing the innocence of the children and break your heart in te process.
That said, it is that very innocence that is exploited in the film. In the beginning, you feel sad and sympathetic for the children, but after a while, you start to notice a pattern where the kids in the movie — that is, all the children in the film, not just the two leads — come with a sad story. And this exploitation becomes more and more apparent as the film goes on, but not to the point where it’s offensive.
Overall, the Oscar-nominated film is one that is well worth a watch. It manages to take a simple object and give it a story that fills you with hope and renders you dejected. With great acting, a peculiar score, and an interesting storyline, this is a foreign film worth every second of its 90 minute run.
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