Film focuses on children of Iran

by Anna Roy
Assistant Features Editor

The award-winning film, “Children of Heaven,” which broke box-office records in its native Iran was shown Oct. 5 in La Fetra Auditorium as part of the How Does Your Garden Grow, monthly diversity film series.

The film takes place in present-day Iran where currently, Mohammad Khatami, a moderately liberal, Islamic reformist cleric is president. He was elected in 1997 and won the presidency by a landslide vote with the support of millions of first-time voters, many of them women. Khatami’s triumph was regarded by many as a reaction against the country’s repressive social policies and weak economy.

Before becoming president, Khatami served as the Minister of Culture and Guidance, where he played an important role in developing and internationalizing Iranian cinema.

The movie focuses on one Iranian family and touches on issues of culture, wealth and poverty in Tehran, the capital of Iran.

“My point was that I’m not just showing poverty for the sake of poverty. It’s not a big deal to just put your camera somewhere and record an instance of poverty,” said Majidi in a recent interview with writer Joshua Klein of The Onion, “that was never my intention I explained that the kind of poverty I show in the film is very dignified. You may not see that in the script, but there are so many elements at work, such as acting, photography, and music-symbolic touches that may not be in the script but will be part of the finished film.”

The two main characters are Ali and his younger sister Zahra, who live in a one-room home with their parents and baby sister.

The family struggles for money. The father rides a rickety bike to get to a Muslim mosque where he works serving tea. The mother is sick and needs surgery.

“In this film I saw some different patterns in how children are treated in a different culture,” said Catherine Henley-Erickson, Professor of English, who is in charge of the film series and leads the discussion after each film, “I think its also about the kids feelings towards their parents.”

The major predicament arises for Ali and Zahra when Ali looses his sister’s shoes. As a result, the two children must share Ali’s only pair of little white tennis shoes, which at the end of the movie are in tattered shreds.

Ali is often late to school, since he must always await his sister’s return from her morning classes and then switch shoes with her and hurriedly race to his own school, all the way across town.

The children in this movie are very responsible and caring. Ali takes responsibility for solving the shoe problem, because he understands that his mother is sick and money is tight.

Things begin to look up for the children when Ali learns of a marathon race in which the third place runner wins a new pair of shoes. He confidently promises Zahra that he will win the race and give her the shoes.

In one poignant scene Ali and his father bike to the wealthy part of the city looking for work. Because of brilliant cinematography work, the audience feels like it’s going along for the ride, gaining an understanding of Iranian society, with its large gap between the rich and poor classes. The stunning cosmopolitan city, complete with tall buildings, shining mansions, freeways, pollution, taxis and noise is portrayed, in contrast with its counterpart of dusty alleyways and one-room homes.

In a memorable scene, the father finally finds work, gardening in a mansion. The movie helps to reveal the struggle poor workers face putting their health at risk, to provide for their families. The father works the entire day, spraying pesticide onto the perfectly manicured lawn, trees and roses.

In another powerful scene, Ali is shown running in the race. The scene is shot partially in slow motion, and his inner thoughts are revealed to the audience. He remembers Zahra telling him how ashamed she is from wearing the tattered, little white tennis shoes.

A lively discussion headed by Catherine Henley-Erickson followed the film.

The film’s main characters were resilient and, “didn’t tend to see what happened to them as out of their control,” said moviegoer Harvey Wichman.

“I try to show all kinds of diversity, relating to women’s issues, age, culture and location,” Henley-Erickson said.

She said that she chooses films like “Children of Heaven” taking the input of students, faculty and audience members in consideration and using her own large film-knowledge base. She is a film-lover who has been writing film reviews for the Claremont Courier for over 20 years. The film series, “How Does Your Garden Grow” focuses on issues of diversity and shows a film on the first Friday of every month.

The next film in the series scheduled for Nov. 8 is “What’s Cooking”, a comedy about four Los Angeles families with different backgrounds and how they celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.

“I think people will recognize their own family in the film,” she said.

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