Dawn News

Weekly Classics: Children of Heaven

Iran’s rich and persistent tradition of cinema has granted it a place among the most widely celebrated film industries in the world. It is said to have taken over the mantle of neorealism from Italian cinema, and many of its award-winning movies, such as "A Separation" and "Baran" have resulted in international praise and prestigious awards throughout the last few decades. In short, exploring Iranian films is essential and invaluable for anyone who wants to learn more about movies.

One of Iran’s most celebrated directors is Majid Majidi, who made Children of Heaven in 1997. This film was the first Iranian movie to ever be nominated by the Academy Awards (for best foreign language film).

Children of Heaven (titled Bacheha-Ye aseman in Persian) possesses a quality and style that is very rare in most films from Hollywood (or even Bollywood). When you watch this movie you will find that there is no needless drama, no amazing occurrences, no villains and heroes, and no miraculous plot-twists. Instead it has a soft, unexaggerated quality that makes it feel like you really are witnessing a vision of life.

This, however, doesn’t make the film less exciting, in fact it serves to draw you in. At times, you can find yourself completely immersed, transported and intertwined with the children who are the subjects of the movie.

The actors play their roles very naturally. The performances from the adorable young actors Amir Farrokh Hashemian (playing Ali) and Bahare Seddiqi (playing Zahra) are especially disarming. In each moment on screen, their innocence shines brightly, engaging young viewers immediately, and reminding adults about the intangible essence of childhood; when the world is flushed with free-flowing fear, wonderment, absorption and curiosity.

The camera-work and the sound-scapes in the film also serve to enhance this feeling; the angles are often taken from the childrens’ perspective, by shooting from their height and at their eye-level, making it easy to view the world like they do and from where they stand.

The story revolves around Ali and Zahra, who are brother and sister (both probably younger than 10 years of age). They are from a poor family living in a humble neighborhood in Tehran. Their father (Reza Naji) is unable to make ends meet, and their mother (Fereshte Sarabandi) is unwell. We join the family at a time when they are very short on money (they owe several months' rent to the landlord and even owe cash to the vegetable vendor) and are barely scraping by on a daily basis.

Ali is out running some errands, and has taken his sister’s pink shoes to the cobbler so that they can be mended. Unfortunately he loses these shoes at the grocers and woefully returns home to tell his little sister about the mishap, begging her to keep it a secret from their already harangued parents. And so their adventure begins.

Zahra now doesn’t have another pair of shoes to wear to school, and after Ali tries (and fails) to find the shoes again, they realise that they must both share Ali’s raggedy sneakers to school each day. Since Ali's school runs in afternoons and Zahra goes in the morning, they develop a schedule of frantically exchanging them and dashing to and from their schools in an effort to keep each other out of trouble at home or in school.

What follows is a beautiful telling of a childhood adventure, a touching portrait of sibling-hood, and among other things, an immersive portrayal of life in poverty. The film is surprisingly poignant, and quietly gives us different perspectives on the lives of others by literally putting us in their shoes.

Though Children of Heaven was essentially made for children, anyone who has seen it will tell you that it is perhaps even more enchanting to watch as an adult. This heartwarming story is great to watch with your family and also a wonderful introduction into the world of Iranian films, one that will hopefully continue to tell such stories in the years to come.

View Dawn.com’s weekly classics archive here.

Nadir Siddiqui is a photographer and interactive producer at Dawn.com. You can view some of his photography here.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (37) Closed

Jun 01, 2012 08:16pm
Absolutely gorgeous and heart-rending movie. Havent seen anything quite like this before. The Iranians know how to make movies.
Jun 01, 2012 04:11pm
I have watched this movie. It is so simple and beautiful. Lollywood learn something from this movie.
Jun 01, 2012 04:17pm
great movie. cliche ridden review.
M. Iqbal
Jun 01, 2012 04:55pm
Indeed the movie is very nice, I watched it years ago. Actually this movie brought a desire in me to learn Farsi and now I know little better Farsi. Pakistan has lot to learn from Iranian and movie making trade is one of them. Look the Iranian women wear Hijab and they look so beautiful, dignified, and joyful to look at. Pakistan has to stop looking and copying India in every aspects. We have very nice neighbor call Iran and China on the other hand. Pakistan do not need to look any other place for friends.
Shahab Riazi
Jun 01, 2012 04:56pm
I agree with the assessment of the film by the author. This is truly an enchanting film. I watched it once and immediately watched it again. The finale when both the siblings put their blistered feet in a pond where fish swim around their feet as if kissing them was pure cinematic genius. I am a big fan of Iranian films and having seen some, I would recommend this one in a heartbeat to anyone wanting to get introduced to Iranian cinema.
Aritra Gupta
Jun 01, 2012 05:02pm
I have seen this movie along with the other Iranian movies that you have mentioned here. To keep neorealism alive to this day is one great feat. India boasts of having a number of massive film industries churning out hundreds of films each year, but i seriously doubt how many of them are even close to these quality films coming out of Iran. Not to mention, these kind of work coming out of a nation that has several cultural restrictions.
Zoin Amir
Jun 01, 2012 07:05pm
One of the best movie I ever seen.
Jun 01, 2012 09:26pm
this is one of my childhood favorites !! seriously such innocence in acting and simple routine life of kids in streets of Tehran, it's really was mesmerizing. well this movie can give you an amazing experience. Nadir Siddiqui, your selection of movies is amazing. again great synopsis !
Jun 01, 2012 11:02pm
one of the best movie i have ever seen. It is very important to have healthy media for kids and this movie is best for young minds. Educational, motivational, ethical and with Loads of Jokes. we need to get some life and see something apart from Bollywood and IPL.
Jun 02, 2012 12:37am
This is an absolutely adorable movie -- this is one movie I still remember beginning to end after 37 years. Nadir Siddiqui wrote a befitting eulogy to that charming classic film. Now I here is one blog -- I would say to Dawn where Dawn could have MODIFIED its cautionary sentence as follows: "The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments -- do reflect -- the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.-:)
Jun 02, 2012 01:23am
Islamic Revolution took vulgarity out of Iranian Cinema and brought it in the realm of reality. Thats why majority of their stories are either true or they are used to educate thier society on social issues. Vulgarity free movies helps them to watch movies with their children and whole family unlike our movies or even TV serials( which are promoting adult topics, such pre marital sex and rape on the name of entertainment).
Loved the Film
Jun 02, 2012 03:27am
Thank you Nadir Siddiqui for reviewing this awesome film. Your write-up was equally brilliant.
Ajaz Hussain
Jun 02, 2012 05:29am
Heart touching movie
Jun 02, 2012 06:54am
Good topic Mr. Nadir.. No doubt many international film festivals have honoured Iranian Cinema in past few years ..
Naseema Perveen
Jun 05, 2012 09:53am
truly appreciable movie..
Jun 02, 2012 07:32am
A moving movie. I in 2006 invited ex-pat friends in Montreal to watch this movie and the next day two of them bought shoes to send it back for their kids in Pakistan. This is an Asian movie focused on content and a message rather than embedding dance clips that we come across all the time when switch to movies from Iran to south Asia. I wish Pakistan media give some coverage to Iranian movies than talking about Indian bollywood all the time in each and every hourly-newsclips (e.g. ARY, GEO, Express and so on).. Sami
Jun 02, 2012 10:21am
No doubt its an amazing movie.
Jun 02, 2012 10:25am
Many PTV long plays also have much of the same quality where there are no heroes or villains and tell a story that we all can related to. I refer to the time when PTV was headed by Rana Sheik. One particular play was a monkey charmer and his wife (played by Sania Sayeed) and their son and of course the "central" character, the monkey. Another play had to do with adulterated medicines, a young boy and his sick mom. Today's PTV is but a shadow of its glorious past.
Mrs. Munim
Jun 02, 2012 11:39am
Very good movie. But the movie that had me hooked onto Iranian cinema was "Rang-e-Khuda", or 'Colours of God'. Do watch.
Jun 02, 2012 12:31pm
The movie touched my heart as I watched it alone, I so much wished then there would be more people who could see it and we can talk about it. Your article rekindled the soft lovely feeling i had while watching this movie.
humaira kanwal
Jun 02, 2012 02:22pm
unforgettable movie .
Jun 02, 2012 03:22pm
Yes, abbas you are absouletly right because even on our ptv seriels i cant watch a drama with my Family.
Ali Arslan
Jun 02, 2012 03:39pm
Incredilbe movie! only Iranians are capable of making such kind of movie...
Jun 02, 2012 04:19pm
absolute brilliant movie.Iranian latest osacrs winning is also one of the best in films.
Dilawar Hussain
Jun 02, 2012 06:22pm
can anyone tell me where can i find the movie in Karach, iv tried Rainbow centre. Not available
Jun 02, 2012 07:53pm
this movie is fantastic movie, even for young minds, when there is dearth of healthy Media for them...
Kalyan Raman
Jun 03, 2012 01:30am
This is an awesome movie. We can watch as a family and it instill family values. Sacrifices of each family member. The story is very and every one acted very well. I watched this movie in US. It is available in Netflix with subtitles in English. Anyone in the world will appreciate this movie. I am really saddened by the latest developments in Iran and US......... May God give peach for all people in the world.
Abdul Aziz Khan
Jun 03, 2012 02:48am
An out class movie of a brother and a sister love based.
Mayank R
Jun 03, 2012 05:00am
Majidi is a magician. Loved most of his work. Color of Paradise (Range Khoda) is another of his masterpiece deserving space in your column.
Jun 03, 2012 05:22am
I started watching iranian movies with "The Separation" an oscar winner! that really thrilled me and went to see another couple of movies among them was "children of heavens". I believe its really stunning one, with no big actors, just a story of couple kids! Wonderfully done! I would recommend to see "The color paradise"!
Tahir Naseer
Jun 04, 2012 03:02pm
Excellent move and emotions. Very simple. I watched this movie a long time back and since then watched it at least 5 times.
changaiz haider
Jun 03, 2012 10:24am
its available on utube y ur searching there man!
Jun 04, 2012 04:02am
Such traditional and entertaining movies with objectives should be made at Pakistan film industry
Jun 04, 2012 06:24am
I request Dawn to dubbed this movie in urdu and show it nation. Show the people of Pakistan how to live their life in minimum living standard, without burning tyre, breaking signal, strikes, explosion, killings, doing every worst thing except Thanking God whatever he gave us, and we can. (if you can't afford cng, buy cycle, can't afford electricity buy candles and can't afford biryani eat cake or bread). In the end of the movie he won the race and fishes cure his wounds, its a gift of god for those who stand whatever they have and give their 100%
sane voice
Jun 04, 2012 11:13am
if living in Karachi, come to Rahat ciommercial zone opposite SAKB school and adjacent to French bakery
sane voice
Jun 04, 2012 11:14am
at Rahat Commercial zone adjacent to French bakery
Jun 09, 2012 01:29am
WORTH Watching :Weeping Camel: