Majid Majidi’s ‘Children of Heaven’ (1997) tells us the story of everyday harsh realities from the point of view of innocent children. Right at the begining of the movie, we are immersed into a seemingly everyday scene, a little boy running errands. Ali loses his sister Zahra’s shoes while at the market. This triggers a set of events, and Ali and Zahra’s little world is plunged into chaos. The camera follows the siblings around as they try their level best to attend school on time wearing the same pair of shoes.
The Lost Shoes: Start of the Problem
While trying to pick out potatoes from the grocery store, Zahra’s freshly mended shoes get picked up by an old man collecting trash. After frantically searching for the shoes, Ali is rudely chased away. On returning home, he sees his mother and the landlord embroiled in an argument over their overdue rent in their courtyard. After much hesitation, he tells his sister that he lost her shoes. Zahra is visibly upset. Knowing that they cannot afford to buy a new pair of shoes, Ali convinces her to keep it a secret from their parents. He suggests that she can wear his shoes to school instead.
Thus ensues an adventure of trying to keep this secret from their parents, while trying their best to attend school on time. Zahra has to dash home from school every day so that her brother is not late for his classes. Despite how fast they run, however, he is unable to get to school on time.
The Theme of Innocence and ‘Childhood in Children of Heaven‘
Even while facing all of these issues, Zahra and Ali retain their innocence and wonder. Whether it be the scene where they play with the bubbles by the pond in their yard. This scene really symbolises their predicament. The mundane detergent suds turn into fun bubbles to play with. Another scene where such innocence is visible, is when the siblings follow another child to confront her for having taken Zahra’s shoes. However, they let it go when they see that her father was blind. This demonstrated that they retain their innocence and purity under all circumstances. Like any other child, their understanding is very straightforward. Ali and Zahra act like any other children their age. The only thing that might be different is the economic predicament of their family.
Familyhood in ‘Children of Heaven’
The love between family members is a running theme within Children of Heaven. Ali and Zahra’s touching sibling-hood is one of the main focuses of the movie. Ali’s gentle care towards his sister is evident through his actions. Zahra too, tries her best, to always be on time, running as if her life depends on it.
The heartwarming ways in which their parents try to protect them cannot be missed either. Notably, Ali and Zahra’s father stands out the most in this aspect. The father is trying his best to protect his family. However, the stern father at home is a stark contrast to his demeanour outside. When Ali and his father go to the city, his father’s strong exterior falters and trembles in the face of blatant display of wealth.
The visual contrasts do all the talking when it comes to explaining the setting. The shiny and new shoes that Zahra keeps eyeing at her school, versus her oversized, worn-out shoes. The dull streets outside the house of the main characters are a direct contrast to the shiny and spacious city. The visual storytelling of Children of Heaven manages to subtly put the crux of the problem in front of our eyes. Ali lost the shoes through no fault of his. However, they must now suffer. There is no respite, as the teacher in the corridor keeps catching him for being late. He is accused each time of being irresponsible. There is no winning against the grasps of society. Poverty becomes the shackles of Ali, Zahra, and their family, trying their best to do their job.
Majid Majidi does provide us with some hope within the story. Ali’s kind class teacher recognizes his talent and helps him out. The kind old man who helps Zahra in rescuing her shoe from the drain. The old man from the mosque who provides their father with fertilizer, which opens up new avenues for him. Where the landlord always harasses their mother, their neighbours are kind and helpful.
Children of Heaven tells us a tale, through the eyes of children. Hence the narrative created gives one an experience of a fairytale. However, the story that the camera is telling is not quite as magical of a fairytale, but that of very worldly problems. It leaves us wondering, what happened to little Ali and Zahra after the movie ended? Children of Heaven leaves us with questions that make a lasting impression. Questions, that the movie might prompt us to point towards the real world.