This 1999 Academy Award contender (nominated for Best Foreign Film) is one of several charming films by Iranian director Majid Majidi. Obviously, watching films set in other countries and cultures offers a multitude of learning opportunities for kids, and Children of Heaven is full of such moments. K and I talked about class, poverty, wealth, Iranian culture (especially as it pertains to women) both during and after viewing, and midway through the film, K expressed concern that it was going to get difficult to watch. He thought the lighthearted touch of the director and the palpable charm of the two child stars were going to give way to bigger tragedy than a pair of lost shoes.
I had a moment of vklempt-ness, realizing my son’s capacity for empathy was not shrinking away as he got older (and sassier, and more jaded, and less open to things his friends wouldn’t like [this extends to food, clothing, etc. – you’ve all been warned]). But I was going on little more than a couple of reviews I’d read, which claimed the movie was “lovely,” “magical,” “delightful” and any number of other positive adjectives, so I was hoping and praying it was going to stay light, and get lighter.
The threat of tragedy hangs like a low flying insect trying to make a landing – the threat of being caught in a web of lies, of being thrown out of school, of a “beating” from dad, of mom’s illness taking a turn for the worse – but, thankfully, none of those things ever happen. I (the reviews) was right, the movie is sheer delight, and those two kids, playing the brother and sister, are absolutely adorable, and their tears, fears and joy are tangible. You just want to hug them.
The story is told, more or less, from the eyes of these children, who love and respect their parents, have great responsibility at home (moreso than many American kids do, I’d venture to say), and want to do the right thing, always. And yet they're like young kids everywhere, and when Ali is out running errands (picking up his sisters’ shoes at the cobbler, buying fresh flatbread, picking produce at the market – and he’s nine, people), he loses the shoes. He panics, and doesn’t tell anyone, except his sister, Zohre. They then work out a schedule to share the only pair of decent shoes Ali owns, trading shoes for slippers after Zohre finsishes her morning classes and Ali runs off to his in the afternoon.
Of course the kids’ solution is tenuous at best.
What follows are wonderfully told vignettes, of Ali’s father embarking on a new scheme to make extra money, of little Zohre discovering her beloved shoes on another’s little girl’s feet at school, and of Ali entering a long distance foot race, in order to win a brand new pair of sneakers.
You barely need to say things like, “See how good you have it?” to your kids when you watch films like this, as they can easily see for themselves how different life is elsewhere, and how difficult it can be. A film like this lifts them out of their everyday life, out of their comfort zone, and enables them to see the joy of very small things, and the beauty of the unknown. It can truly open their eyes to the gifts of the world.
Note: Your kids will have to read subtitles, and the PG rating is for a one or two very mild curses (one “what the hell” and one “damn,” if I recall correctly; nothing worse) by the father, who is capable of intense anger.