Children of Heaven (1997)

A pair of shoes. Not just any pair. The pair is pink, one has a tear in the side. The shoes are the kind with the buckle over the top and there are bows on the tips. Most importantly they’re Zahra’s (Bahare Seddiqi) pair of shoes, her only pair. These small treasures are entrusted into the care of Ali (Amir Farrokh Hashemina), her brother who takes them to have the tear repared. And he loses them when a wandering poor peddler mistakes the bag the shoes are in for a bit of store rubbish. Their family can’t afford another pair.

And the drama that ensues, the dread, the worry, the compromising and bonding that grows between brother and sister is a drama so weighty, so sincere, it’s almost cosmic in proportions. Writer/director Majid Majidi reminds audiences that the world of a child is not simply one of carefree bliss, but perhaps more deathly serious than the lives of adults, for a pair of lost shoes turn the world upside down for these two children, the foundations of the earth shake. They decide to not tell their parents and solve this crisis themselves.

Of course, Majidi finds time for joy as well. After the siblings have settled on sharing Ali’s shoes, the two decide to wash them as Zahra insists they are too dirty for her to wear.  Of course, the mudanity of an everyday chore breaks out into a display of delight as the two children take turns blowing soap bubbles from all the suds, a reprieve from their dire circumstances.

Still, Zahra has trepidations about wearing the shoes in public. While lined up at class to take a jumping test she attempts to shuffle back and hide behind the neat row of shoes at the line. The other girls have such pretty shoes, like the ones she use to have. Here shoes are plane white sneakers. But then the teacher mentions how the girls should be wearing sneakers when one of the young girls slips while taking the test. Zahra smiles with pride, steps up to the line. She’s wearing sneakers!

Children of Heaven  is made up of such tiny moments, moments that seem so insignificant to an adult, or to people who don’t have to be concerned over something like not being able to afford a new pair of shows, or only having one pair of shoes. But such agony, such joy, such anger, and such bliss is brought about from such mundane objects. It’s a world where simple items can still be relished, the world of a child.

Running through this weighty drama is the social commentary of class. It’s never overt enough to be spoken, but never was it so clear than watching a scene where Zahra gazes around looking at shoes the divides between the haves and the have-nots. In the political climate of a rich country, a have-not may not be able to afford good education or healthcare or insurance, in the world of Iran a have-not may not be able to afford shoes.

Children of Heaven is almost deceptively simple. In its simplicity, it finds a world-crushing humility, a world in which a child’s grandest dream is not a career or a dream of adventure, but a pair of shoes. Not a pair of shoes for himself, but for his sister. It’s naively childish, overblown and exaggerated in such a way that only the childish can blow things out of proportion. And therein lays its beauty.

© 2012 James Blake Ewing