Monday, December 1, 2008

Children of Heaven - Movie Review

This movie is about the lost shoes a seven year old girl, Zahra. Her elder brother Ali takes them to a cobbler, and on his way back he loses them. She asks if the shoes were mended and if it looks pretty. Ali answers that they're pretty, but delays in announcing the truth. Later, when she tells him that he's going to report it to their father, he tells her that both will get beatings as his father doesn't have enough money to buy new shoes until the next month. It's the typical lower middle class family where the parents want to give their best to their children and at the same time live a hand-to-mouth existence. The setting is a poor suburb of Tehran. It's just a one room house and there are three children, with the latest addition to the family only a few months old. Zahra & Ali don't even question when family responsibilities are thrust upon them. They understand their family income level and they are mature enough to not dream of things beyond their father's capabilities.

The siblings come up with a plan to keep their wheels spinning (here, their feet walking): Zahra attends forenoon school and Ali attends afternoon school. Ali gives his shoes to his sister to go with her school uniform. Because of time constraints, she has to run fast as soon as her school is over, to an alley which is usually empty where they can exchange the pair of shoes. There are long shots of Zahra running to that empty passage and, from there, Ali running to his school. These shots repeat. We feel for what these kids go through. What is untold is the sense of prestige these kids have - while they could have decided to change shoes somewhere near her school, which might have been easier for both of them, they decide against it for it would be a matter of honour to let the society keep thinking that their father is rich enough to provide separate shoes for the kids. There is a brilliant sequence where Zahra loses one of the shoes into a current of sewage (because it's big for her and she can't run fast with proper grip). The way she runs after that shoe with one on is funny and tragic at the same time.

Until the last segment of the movie, which revolves around a province-level marathon running race, the screenplay doesn't hint of a calculated movement of the storyline towards a definite end. For the most part of the first half, the action in one scene would lead to the next scene smoothly, that you would have thought there would be no grand finale. Majidi employs a commercial tactic to hook his audience to the climx, but I'm not complaining. The third prize of that marathon race is a pair of shoes and a two-week paid holiday. Ali promises his sister that he will definitely be the third to finish the race. Those long runs which Ali was forced to make from that alley to his school act as unforeseen handy practice sessions. What happens in the race, which I won't reveal, left me happy, scratching my head and exhausted just as Ali. In the touching final scene, Majidi displays his penchant for filling up the screen with meaningful and beautifully perfect visuals - Ali immerses his feet into a water pool in their courtyard. The underwater camera captures multi-coloured fishes picking away his skin tears and sores because of heavy-duty running.

I'll point out two sequences which makes this a high class product. Ali and his father visit a rich neighbourhood in Tehran offering gardening services. When one household lets them in, Ali's father realizes that a young boy in that house wants to play with Ali. In spite of his tiredness due to cycling a long distance in the blazing sun, he encourages Ali to play with that boy while he single-handedly does all the pruning, cutting and cleaning. While his father is working, Ali knows his limits very well and doesn't yearn for the riches that boy doesn't even know he is blessed with. Majidi accomplishes this scene of superior understanding of father-son without any sentimental music or over-the-top techniques to make his audience cry. In another sequence, Zahra finds out her shoes. A little girl attending the same school as hers is wearing them. She teams with Ali and spy on her house. When they learn that that girl belongs to a poorer family, they drop their ideas of knocking their doors and asking for their shoes. Later, we learn that the girl got those shoes through fair means and there is no hoodwink involved.

Ali and Zahra are extremely refreshing in the lead roles of this art film. Though they slip up in some scenes, they're believable most of the time. Majid Majidi touches us without any tear-jerking ploy or saccharine dialogues. In all the times when the siblings fight over the lost shoes, Majidi never fails to infuse the love and care between them. There are no villains here. Just ordinary families with huge dreams. This could happen very well in any rural place in India. Why Indian filmmakers aren't looking at these families and telling their stories is a pricking question.

Personal P.S: The kids are obedient and know their place. When Ali doesn't pay attention to his mother, his father says "You're not a kid anymore, you're nine years old". And Zahra's time-pass, if I may use that phrase, is to look after her new born sister. I sometimes wondered if they were losing out on their childhood. In fact, I saw myself in these kids sometimes, and I believe many of us will identify with either Ali or Zahra - our society and our parents aren't much different from them. If I lost a pencil, I knew I'd get a slap on my back and I feared death to open it to my parents. In spite of the burden of the awareness of family pressure, I knew somewhere inside that my parents had a good feeling about me. That sentiment is expressed a few times in this movie. Thinking again, I don't feel like I lost my childhood. I guess these kids too, when they grow up, remember and relish only those simple, sublime events that made them happy and feel safe.


AyuArjuna BiGoshh said...

Good review.. 4/5

AyuArjuna BiGoshh said...

edited...version...4.7...i like your comments

~AsTaLaViStA~ said...

thanx mdm..he3