What You Need To Know:
Moral worldview; two very lightweight obscenities; and, no other objectionable material.
The recent movies to come out of Iran, such as MovieGuide® “Teddy ‘the Good News’ Bear” Award Winner THE WHITE BALLOON, are so winsome and poignant, clean and wholesome, life-affirming and moral that they make one wonder what life is really like in that isolated country. So it is with Montreal Film Festival Grand Prize Winner CHILDREN OF HEAVEN which tells the story of a brother and sister who live in a poor section of Teheran.
The movie opens with a tattered shoemaker repairing a very old, beaten-up pair of pink, girl’s shoes. Little Ali, who is nine years old, pays the shoemaker and runs out of the tiny shop, past the tattered curtain that serves for the door. Ali goes to the grocer and hides the repaired shoes behind a box, so that he can buy some potatoes. The grocer complains that Ali’s mother has not paid her bill. While Ali is selecting the cheapest, cast-off potatoes, a junk man pushing a junk cart passes and picks up the shoes. When Ali realizes that the shoes are missing, he panics and spills the produce while looking for his sister’s shoes. He runs home and, with tears in his eyes, honestly tells his younger sister Zohre that he lost her shoes.
Ali begs his sister not to say anything to their parents. Their mother is ill, and the two of them must do a lot of the house work. Their overworked father earns very little selling tea at the mosque, but he loves his job and cries when he hears the recorded prayers.
Zohre asks, “How am I going to go to school without shoes?” Ali says that she could use his sneakers in the morning to go to her school, and, as soon as Zohre gets back, he will put on the sneakers and run to his school. Day after day, they try to make do with this difficult arrangement. Ali almost is expelled from his school for being late every day, but he is a good student, and his teacher stands up to the principal for him.
Zohre sees that another girl has found her shoes, but when the brother and sister follow the girl to her home, they find out that her father is blind, so Ali and Zohre decide not to make an issue over the pink shoes.
One day, Ali’s father is given some gardening equipment. With Ali on the handle bars, he rides his bike for miles to the wealthy area of Teheran (which looks like a very modern, pleasant city). At first, they get chased away from mansion after mansion while seeking work as gardeners. Eventually, a little boy asks Ali to come play with him in his wealthy garden. His grandfather hires Ali’s father to garden just so that Ali can play with his grandson. This job gives them a little bit of money and much hope, but riding home, the breaks on the bicycle go out, and they get into a severe accident.
Ali learns that there is an upcoming citywide cross country marathon for all the schools in Teheran. The first and second place prizes do not interest Ali, but he reads on the school bulletin board that the runner who places third will win a new pair of sneakers. After much pleading and crying, the coach decides to let him run.
All of his weeks of running to school help him in the race. Regrettably, however, there is some pushing and shoving which causes the triumphant ending to be filled with pathos and mystery.
Truly, these children are CHILDREN OF HEAVEN. Even though they have so little, they love each other deeply.
The acting and the direction is extraordinary. Ali and his sister are brilliant. They laugh and cry with such naturalness that they deserve Oscars for their performances. To direct two little children to be so sincere, honest and open is a work of genius, and the director deserves an award for his fine work.
In the midst of poverty, CHILDREN OF HEAVEN affirms life, love, family, perseverance, and compassion. The trials and tribulations are real life events, yet the movie is always captivating, more so than many effects-laden action adventure films. This gem deserves to be seen and appreciated.
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