4 January 2000 | Buddy-51
a work of art
The wonderful Iranian film "Children of Heaven" and its companion piece, "The White Balloon", remind one of those great Czechoslovakian films of the 1960's ("The Shop on Main Street," "Loves of a Blonde," etc.) in that they achieve their artistry by providing keenly observed glimpses into the minutiae of everyday life. They also help to humanize a culture often regarded as alien and even incomprehensible to western eyes. Above all, this magnificent film reminds us that real drama comes not in the form of over-plotted special effects-laden extravaganzas, but from films that examine the universal simplicities of life as we all know it. When it is distilled through the eyes of a poet - this is when art is achieved.
"Children of Heaven" has its roots planted firmly in the neorealist tradition. Its simple story echoes not merely the earlier "The White Balloon" but the original Italian classic, "The Bicycle Thief." In this film, young Ali accidentally loses his sister's recently mended shoes; out of this tale of utmost simplicity, the filmmakers take us on a fascinating tour of life in a typical Iranian village and family. As Ali and his sister scheme to overcome this obstacle, the film touches on any number of universal themes: the close ties of siblings united in their common bond of avoiding often irrational parental anger; well meaning, loving parents overwhelmed with the trials of everyday life who are often compelled to act out in ways that seem cruel to the children who adore them; the petty viciousness with which children often strike out at each other, yet, at the same time, the often unexpected kindness and empathy with which they also treat one another. The film manages to keep the audience constantly engrossed in its action without once resorting to even a smidgen of incredibility or melodrama. Beautifully directed, with a superb soundtrack filled with heightened naturalistic noises, it is a film of many-splendored wonders, its lyricism caught in a glimpse of soap bubbles floating around a backyard produced by two children abandoned to their moment of incomprehensible youthful joy, its high drama found in a shoe racing down a city sewer with a desperate young girl in tow.
The actors, children and adults alike, underplay their roles in so naturalistic a fashion that one does not even feel they are performing at all; the film, through them, becomes a magical fabric of life that draws the audience deep into its world.
"Children of Heaven" brilliantly demonstrates that works of art often arise from the observation of the most seemingly mundane concerns of daily life and reminds us that this provides far more drama than all the exploding spaceships, car chases and hyperkinetic melodrama that flood the screen in the guise of entertainment. It certainly shows just how phony, empty and bereft of life most American films are. Don't miss "Children of Heaven"! It is a richly rewarding experience.