‘Children of Heaven’ – an Iranian tale of childhood on Prime Video

Majid Majidi captures the immediacy and essence of children in Children of Heaven (Iran, 1999), a delightful tale of a brother and sister who share a pair shoes when the boy (though no fault of his own) loses his sister’s only pair.

Too embarrassed to tell his poor parents, who can’t afford another pair, young Ali makes a pact with little Zahra to share his sneakers until he can find her shoes. Everyday Zahra tears through streets and alleys to reach her brother before his afternoon school starts, and everyday Ali races to beat the bell, jumping gutters and navigating the twisting lanes to his school. Obviously this can’t continue but he hits upon a plan: the third place prize in a foot race is a new pair of shoes and he’s determined to take it.

The plot may smack of a Disney film but the direction couldn’t be more different. The family scenes are delicately observed and Majidi captures the immediacy and essence of kids: proud, emotional, spirited (left to their own devices their coiled energy sends them running headlong everywhere), petulant, sweet, and disarmingly sincere.

Children of Heaven has a Western-friendly framework without losing the naturalistic eye and lolling rhythm that gives the best Iranian films their richness. Even as it builds to the climactic footrace (quite unexpectedly turned into a nail biting contest) the film continues to reveal a wealth of discreet surprises culminating in a conclusion all the more resonant for its sublime delicacy.

Majidi’s efforts earned the film the honor of becoming the first Iranian feature to earn an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film.

Rated PG, in Farsi with English subtitles.

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Children of Heaven [DVD]

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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