Here is a film for which I need not restrain my praise. Regardless of how irresponsibly I manipulate your expectations, you will fall in love with Ali, Zahra, and most definitely their story.
Ali and Zahra are child characters, which is rare enough. But they are also kind, intelligent, helpful, and not bullied every day. They are children who will grow up to be respected - if they are not already.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. This isn’t a film about kids growing up to be leaders of their industry or famous rock stars.
Rather, it’s a story of a big brother who picks up his sister’s shoes from the cobbler. He has to buy some potatoes for his mother before returning home, and - as he digs through the cheap potatoes pile - a blind trash collector mistakenly takes the shoes. Ali is terrified to find the shoes have disappeared, and later returns home, tears in his eyes, to tell his sister he’s lost her shoes.
Her only response is to ask how she will go to school tomorrow without shoes. Ali and his sister Zahra work out a plan right under their parents’ noses (It’s homework time, so talking is not allowed.) by writing notes to each other as they pretend to study. The plan? Zahra will wear Ali’s shoes to school each morning. When her final class ends, she will race back to their alley to give Ali back his shoes. And then he will run to his school, which starts a little later.
Of course, sometimes either Zahra or Ali cannot run fast enough; and Ali, who is an excellent student, has to deal with punishment for being tardy:
I submit that this situation is scarier and more absorbing for children than a movie about Godzilla or other manufactured entertainments. Even when you’re a kid, you know you’re not likely to be squished by a giant lizard, but losing something that has been entrusted to you? And getting in trouble at school? That’s big time.
And that’s really the nature of much of this film’s beauty: In the hands of a good storyteller, real life is more captivating than any science fiction or fantasy tale. Indeed, all fiction aspires to distract us long enough to make a statement about our reality.
This review merely introduces you to the film’s premise. So much more is packed into Majid Majidi’s master work that you’ll just have to watch it for yourself to see.
Note: Children of Heaven is a foreign-language film. But you don’t need to worry. This is absolutely a film for children. The subtitles are brief, simple, and easily understandable for kids in the 2nd or 3rd grade.