If ever a propaganda film there was, Children of Heaven is one because one cannot come away from the filmhowever wonderful and adoring the children arewithout feeling preached to about the wonders of Islam and the virtues of Muslim society. The children in this film, aside from being adorable, are remarkable vessels of virtue and morality whose every actions speaks to the heroic nature, and the triumphant cultural and social achievement of Islam. Or so the state of Iranwhere this movie was produced, filmed, and directedwould have us believe.
But, aside from the not so subtle attempts at brainwashing, I found Children of Heaven to be a rather likeable film, full of the dignity, hope, and believe it or not, on-the-edge of your seat drama. And I have to admit that I enjoyed seeing children that paid the proper respect not only to their elders, but also to each other! On the other hand however, I could never quite shake the feeling in the back of my mind that Iran, a country culturally dominated by conservative Islamic mullahs, was trying to convert me using the innocence of babes as the lure.
Directed by Iranian born Majid Majidi, Children of Heaven was released in 1998 and receive an Oscar nomination in 1999 in the best foreign film category, but failed to win the golden statue. The movie centers on the exploits of an affable, intelligent Iranian boy Ali, and his adorable sometimes-brooding younger sister Zahra. One day on the way home from the market Ali loses his younger sisters newly mended shoes to a man collecting the discarded waste from local merchants. Ali, desperate to keep his father in the dark about the shoes for fear of a beating, convinces his sister to share his battered, aging sneakers. She will wear them to school every morning and hand them off to him when it is his turn to go to school. This plan involves a lot of running by both siblings, and so the stage is set for what turns out to be a surprisingly fresh film, which highlights the precocious nature in all children.
Ali proves to be the hero of this little drama, his intelligence, and his street smarts carry him through many a rough spot. In many ways Ali is more able than his dimwitted and hapless father, and so I could not help but root for him throughout the movie. And Alis his devotion to his sister Zahra is heartwarming and gratifying to watch unfold. The closing scenes of the movie had me surprisingly enough, on the edge of my seat, heart pounding wildly, eyes open wide in anticipation of the end; will he or wont he, does he or doesnt he, can he prevail, or is all his efforts just wasted upon the landscape of human hopelessness and despair?
The story seems to take place in Tehran, the capital of Iran, and the visuals depicted in the poorer sections of the city are quite telling. The splashes of color seemed to me to be lifted from the canvas of a painting, so vivid and eye catching were they. Some of the scenes of everyday life were harsh, and many times I found myself wondering how anyone could live under those conditions. It made me appreciate more the society in which I live. And perhaps that is a failing of the movie: while any parent would long to have the near perfect children this movie portrays, no parent would want to raise a child under the bleak conditions so brightly illuminated in Children of Heaven.
In the end, the children were the film; their little souls drew me in and kept me on their side throughout the unfolding drama. I rooted for them, I was happy for them, and I felt sadness at their misfortune. But far from convincing me that Islam is the shinning beacon of hope upon a high sought after hill, I came away feeling that the children would bear so much more fruit if given the freedom to really expand their minds and imagine to possibilities of the human spirit only true Western freedom can bring. Is that arrogance on my part; American smugness; Western snobbery; maybe, but no more so then the heavy handed message the film tried to foist upon my mind.
Worth seeing? You bet, but with an open mind, and a keen eye trained upon the culturally bias propaganda that inspired it.
Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 9 - 12
Special Effects: Well at least you can't see the strings
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