I have 49 pairs of shoes in my closet. 49 pairs and I usually rotate between to 4 or 5 favorites. If I were to lose a pair, it’s possible that I might not notice for while. If I did, I’d probably cut my losses, grab another set and plan my next excursion to the shoe store. Regardless of their great importance, we rarely consider the shoes that protect our feet from injury and disease as more than an accessory. To countries where shoes are a commodity, like gold or coffee, we Americans take much for granted. Children of Heaven an Iranian film written and directed by Majid Majidi, entirely in Farsi puts this privilege in perspective. The 1998 Acadamy Award nominee, lauded by the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, follows an impoverished brother and sister as they embark on a funny and touching adventure based upon a pair of little pink shoes.
The film opens on the young Ali (Amir Farrokh Hashemian) awaiting the repair of his sister’s school shoes. The cobbler glues the soles back on and sews up a large hole, so that she may continue wearing them, a requirement to attend school. As Ali returns home, he puts the shoes down to buy Barbari bread and potatoes for dinner. When he returns the shoes have disappeared, to his dismay. He searches high and low to no avail, drudging home to break the news to his sister, Zahra (Bahare Seddiqi). The family is poor and unable to pay rent, so Ali convinces Zahra to keep the lost shoes a secret. The pair agrees not to burden their father with the extra cost, opting instead to share Ali’s school shoes. Zahra wears them in the morning and Ali meets her for the exchange shortly before his afternoon classes begin. The siblings encounter several crazy twists and turns in the plot. The two make mad dashes to and from school to meet, jumping over gutters, dodging adults and even encountering the shoes new owners. Throughout the film, we are saddened to see Ali and Zahra take on adult sized responsibilities and worrying about problem no child should be aware of. The action builds to nail biting climax when Ali enters a citywide race determined to the win third place prize, a pair of sneakers, which he plans to trade for a new set for Zahra.
This film maintains an innocence that has been missing from Hollywood films for quite some time. Produced with the meager budget of $185,000, the film has more impact than its American counterparts. Children of Heaven finds success is in its simplicity. The films solid story line captivates its audience without the use of violence, sex or gratuitous language. The characters are not necessarily relatable, given our differing circumstances, but compelling none the less. A noticeable aspect that seems to be missing from the Hangover’s and Transformer’s of the world, is a sense of honor. The family depicted owns very little but remain hardworking and honest, choosing to find legitimate solutions to problem rather concoct obnoxious schemes to cheat and steal from others. Majidi does a great job capturing the spirit of the children: caring, loving, fair, humble and precocious. Ali’s expressive face is priceless and despite the language barrier, it’s easy to decipher the deep range of emotions he reaches throughout the film. The children are superb actors, superior to a few “seasoned” veterans I’ve seen in my day. The film is brilliantly shot, frame for frame, and does a great job of delving into the everyday lives of average people outside of the posh homes of Tehran.
Although Children of Heaven is based on Iranian society, the issues and problems are presented in a way that transcends culture. The premise of the film could be applied to nearly any country in the world and we, the audience, are privy to the economic hardships outside of our self absorbed existence. This film is great view for the family and friends. I highly recommended setting up a screening in your home or school, being completely blow away, and them logging on to a site TOMS.com and buying a pair of shoes. For every pair of shoes sold, TOMS’ gives a free pair to children like Ali and Zahra.