As if Harvey Weinstein himself sat down to make his own Il Postino–ish version of a Kiarostami scenario, Majid Majidi’s ham-handed Iranian minidrama practically remakes Where Is the Friend’s House? and The White Balloon by way of test-screening cards. (“Did you like/dislike those sweet, opal-eyed Persian kids?” Loved ’em.) Unquestioning and patronizing, The Children of Heaven is, relative to Kiarostami’s ambiguous elegance, a crying clown on black velvet. We look down at Majidi’s kids as sympathetic grown-ups, while in Kiarostami we’re with those kids, and their single-minded missions, from the git-go. Removed from its daunting Kiarostamian context, it’s just another imported open-heart massage movie with adorable tots, difficult trials, and slow-motion triumph.
In a by-now familiar north Iranian setting, a young boy (Mohammad Amir Naji) loses his sister’s shoes, and so secretly arranges to swap his own threadbare sneakers with her as they come and go to school. For the sister (the peach-cheeked Fereshte Sarabandi), the world suddenly becomes filled with opulent footwear, but her brother is perennially late for school despite his mad dashing, which could get him expelled. When a regionwide marathon race is held, the little urchin hopes to win not first but third prize, which includes a pair of sneakers he could give to his sister.
You can’t miss the dis of Western consumer culture any more than you can miss the film’s final endorsement of same. Clumsily staged (a bike accident any 15-year-old Super-8 maven could’ve cut better), lit like a soap opera, and acted with all the bribed relish of a peanut butter commercial, Majidi’s movie is merely the simplistic bid being made by every national industry impatient for mass audience attention. Gallingly, it may succeed.