Friday, November 21, 2008

"Children of Heaven" (Language - Persian) (1999) - Movie Classics

If any of the viewers after seeing “Children of Heaven” does not completely and utterly wither into particles and adore it, there is a strong recommendation to test your emotional sanity. This Iranian film written and directed by Majid Majidi does the best thing in its casting. The brother and sister, Ali (Amir Farrokh Hashemian) and Zahra (Bahare Seddiqi) respectively are the children we see in the schools, the students who try hard with the same pair of uniform until their body maturity does not allow them to wear it anymore. They play hard too and the sweat they pour in gallons can as well make a river of child hood joy in the midst of mad reality existing somewhere in a parallel world.

Ali is filled with guilt and fear as he enters the house and stands helpless in front of his sister Zahra after losing her shoes. The shoes were not new but a torn piece put together by a cobbler. Ali’s father (Mohammad Amir Naji) is a hard working blue collar dad letting out his anger on the society towards his children. But he loves them and loves them dearly. Their mother (Fereshte Sarabandi) is ill and both the kids help her out in the house work while struggling to go school and doing their home work. The losing of shoes is not matter of luxury or childishness (strange to say that as both are in their lower grades) but a necessity. Neither of them cannot go to their school without sneakers and thankfully girls have their morning shifts while boys their afternoons. So Zahra wears her brother’s shoes and as the bell rings, she runs like a cheetah cub with two legs towards her brother waiting and looking impatiently at the corner of the street. Swap the shoes and slippers and then goes Ali with agility and a touch of masculinity ruining the innocence but well men are cursed right from their child hood of the beauty.

The film is filled with emotional land mines it does not step. The land mines I am talking about are the expected heart breakers because we are in love with these two kids. I have never been a great fan when people go “aaahhh” when they see a kid’s picture (that includes my nephew too) but seeing these two with the sibling love and the fear and concern for their hard working father, I cannot avoid smiling with a shadow of sadness and affection over them. Ali is shrewd, top in class and the swap procedure makes him a damn good runner. Zahra is the cherubic girl with sunshine on her face huddled in the cave of her dress but never does her ray of shining happiness stops. The humanity in them is pure and unadulterated. Nothing for a moment makes it sappy and this is something we can associate with the goodwill existed in our child hoods.

“Children of Heaven” soars high because I was able to fly back to the days I walked with tons of books on my back under the merciful shadows of trees to the school, late and never regretted it. And as Ali is getting stopped by the time police teacher, I had many of them. And there were merciless and even thinking back as an adult, a lot mean. I could understand the thousand times I came late and was punished but I could never understand the sports instructor make me run the ground (trust me, that is the cruelest thing you can do to a fat kid) with the loads of bag on my birthday. Now this is the best part, when I come back for his sports class, he asks candies for the birthday. That sinks deep and cut deep. Either way he made a memory and thanks to him for that even if it is a bitter one.

What is beautiful is the potential artificiality being jumped off at every opportunity and making it serene and impeccable. It is the film which makes the living genuine and a reason to live for. In the cinematography of Parviz Malekzaade, the aerial shots and the slow motion are the punctuations for this poetry. We see the naïve faces of Ali and Zahra with a foot away and always they are out there with their smiles and tear filled eyes.

This is the family which binds the society together. A father scolding his wife because she works despite her illness and a mother in that illness making food for a sick neighbour. This is the family which has two kids who some how in this menial labour of surviving has absorbed the concept of love and care. Zahra follows a fellow school girl wearing her lost shoes. She brings Ali later and they see that they are a family like them and without a word they walk back. Ali comes running home to say that he is going to win third in the running race because that would earn him a sneaker for his sister. The race when it comes pulls the viewers forward and despite knowing the aim of Ali, we do not know what to expect. For the first time in any real race and the one in films we want our favourite character to come third.

“Children of Heaven” would be the most sentimental film I would have ever seen and yet not even an ounce of manipulative sappiness is put in it. It is a classic. It has the characters we want to put our arms around and the kids whom we want to walk along guiding them when they walk by the side of our legs. It is a happy ending with a sad interlude but we know things would be good. It ends with a symbolism of life working out its way if the efforts are there and mainly the love in every bit of it. I loved the film, loved every character in it, loved the reality in it, loved the child hood it bore and the adulthood it shared, loved the moments of angels growing to be some one else but did not worry about it and if some one did not love it, I who completely believe in the respectable nature of individual subjective taste has to sincerely question their psychological bent.

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