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Children of Heaven
1997 - PG (for some mild language) - 87 Mins.
Director: Majid Majidi
Producer: Amir Esfandiari, Mohammad Esfandiari
Written By: Majid Majidi
Starring: Amir Naji, Mir Farrokh Hashemian, Bahare Seddiqi
Review by: James O'Ehley
   
And here, compliments of Iran (one of George Dubya’s “Axis of Evil” countries) comes a welcome antidote to most of the output of that other Evil Empire, Hollywood.

“Children of Heaven” is the complete antithesis of most Hollywood movies nowadays. It has no explosions, no car chases, and no gun fights. Instead it offers likeable characters and an emotionally involving story.

It is a simple story told simply: a nine-year old Iranian boy accidentally loses his younger sister’s shoes. Their family is poor and probably couldn’t afford new ones, so instead of getting into trouble, the siblings concoct a plan: they’ll share the boy’s pair of sneakers. Since the little boy goes to school in the afternoons, his little sister – whose classes are in the mornings - will wear them to school. Then she’ll rush back home in time for the boy to wear them when he has to go to school.

The scheme backfires when the boy becomes chronically late for school and is targeted by the headmaster. How long will they keep this up until the truth comes out? Will they be able to get new shoes for the girl?

OK, so the plot synopsis above sounds depressing. Poverty has never made for good cinema unless you have proletarian masses in a violent uprising in some future society (Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”) or in 1905 Tsarist Russia (“Battleship Potempkin”).

But “Children of Heaven” is one of the most sweetly engaging movies I have seen in quite a while. Like TV’s the Simpsons, this is a family that is happy on its own terms.

While affluent Westerners renting this movie at their local Blockbusters may not exactly identify with the concept of being too poor to buy a new pair of shoes (just max the credit card, Imelda!), there is something universal to “Children of Heaven” that ought to appeal to . . . well, children.

Yes, despite being a ‘foreign’ (i.e., non-Hollywood) film with subtitles, “Children of Heaven” should make for ideal viewing for children in the 7-9 age group. Most of the story is told without dialogue, and accompanying parents can always explain what is happening. Somehow I think the idea of getting in trouble at school or with parents will be something that kids can more directly relate to than, let’s say, yet another Terminator appearing to kill off an enemy.

When “Children of Heaven” first came out several years, I refused to see it, thinking that it would probably be too sickly sweet. Yes, it is sweet, but not in the cloying way that Hollywood foists it upon us in their ‘family values’. Also, it was pleasant to actually have child characters in a movie that weren’t wise ass brats one instinctively despises.

The two central characters – the kid and his younger sister – actually like and care for each other. In this, it reminded me of the Japanese animated movie “Grave of the Fireflies” which I recently saw, which also featured a caring sibling couple. However, “Children of Heaven” is a more upbeat movie than the incredibly depressing, yet powerful, “Grave of the Fireflies” (a movie I wouldn’t exactly recommend for younger kids).

Obviously, paid-up cynics such as Village Voice film critics need not apply. If you disliked the recent “Lilo & Stitch” for its sentimentality, or don’t have any children of your own, the chances are you won’t like “Children of Heaven.”

Maybe becoming a parent helped, but I’m glad I finally got round to seeing this movie. I am also glad I bought it on DVD for my baby daughter to view one day. Not only will it bring her into contact with other cultures, but would also teach her that having the latest fashion accessory does not necessarily bring happiness - that there is more to life than mere blind consumerism.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

 
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