A Nationalist Classic.
This is an absolutely charming movie about two impoverished children who must share a single pair of shoes after the older brother (age 8) loses his younger sister's pair.
I highly recommend that you rent the video from your local rental and watch it with your families.
There is not a hint of sex or violence anywhere in it.
The movie is in Farsi (Iranian), with English subtitles.
It is truly odd how occasional reminders of civilization seem able to vault the walls and moats around Hollywood.
But increasingly, the truly subversive stuff seems to float in from abroad undetected by Hollywood branch of the Inner Party with its curiously dull radars. In the consummate irony, this movie is distributed in the U.S. by Sumner Redstone's Miramax, an Inner Party purveyor of culture destruction nonpareil. As I watched this import, I was reminded of an Austrian girl friend who told me back in 1971 that she and her Austrian friends had crossed the border into Czechoslovakia and saw "Fistful of Dollars" twenty two times!
I knew then in 1971 that we had already won the cold war. It was only a matter of time.
If the censors in Czechoslovakia could not recognize Sergio Leone's consummate paean to the invisible hand of capitalism - a killer with no name driven by the profit motive to exterminate the forces of gun running and whiskey smuggling evil, then the system was hopelessly crippled.
I cannot imagine what Miramax's motive might have been. Perhaps some staffer thought he could make a few quick bucks at no risk, given that the film was already produced and the story is so charming. It would have great appeal to the "small town family market" which Michael Medved says is huge, but which Hollywood routinely ignores.
Just another example of the invisible hand doing good despite the worst intentions of the body and mind to which it is attached. And the Hollywood branch of the Inner Party is so deeply corrupted by their own toxins, that they can no longer see or understand what they import.
Adam Smith, allow me to introduce you to Sir Arthur Keith.
The movie opens upon an impoverished Arab family living in a traditional Arab village. The father works at a factory and is active at the Mosque, while the mother stays home with the kids.
The boy takes his sister's shoes to the village cobbler for repair, and then stops by a small vegetable store to buy potatoes. Everywhere in the village there is trust, with merchants, craftsmen and landlords extending credit, although not without discussion and disagreement. A trash scavenger accidentally picks up the sisters repaired shoes, setting in motion the main story line.
The family lives in a one-room apartment, and the girl and boy exchange written notes about the missing shoes to conceal the economic disaster from their parents. The parents presumably are illiterate and unable to read the notes. Horatio Alger, phone home!
Despite the poverty, there are certain minimum standards in this community that the little boy and girl understand perfectly well, and one is that you cannot attend school without shoes.
A single school facility apparently operates on a split shift, accommodating girls first, and then boys later. The two decide to share the boy's sneakers, and they devise a elaborate scheme for the girl to run to a spot after her school ends where the boy can exchange the sneakers for sandals (which apparently cannot be worn to school), and then the boy can race to school on foot and almost be on time.
A Westerner is immediately struck by the fact that these very young children can run though the streets of this economic slum without the slightest concern for safety. Crime is simply not a threat. Given the poverty in which they live, these people have a remarkably civilized existence, in which everyone in the community looks after everyone else.
The first hint we get of more powerful nationalist themes is when we hear the little girls, assembled in formation in the school yard, recite "I am the flower of the nation" with no smirks or other hints of the "culture of critique."
Naturally, my culture destruction and code antennae are erect and on full power scan at this point.
I assume that this movie was originally intended for an Arab audience. While the country in which this movie was filmed might be obvious to an Arab, it was far from obvious to me. I never saw a specific country mentioned in the subtitles nor in any pictures or flags. It occurred to me that it might be a broader racial nation to which the message was directed.
As you might expect, the younger sister spots another girl at school wearing her shoes, and she and her brother go to the girl's house to ask for the shoes back. At the house, the see that the little girl's father is a blind peddler, and they know, without saying a word, that they cannot ask for the shoes.
The children, despite their tender age, do not have to be told. A deeply imbedded social understanding and a natural form of social cohesion reign supreme in this village.
It so happens that the little boy is one of the top students in the school and wins a fancy pen from the teacher, which he gives to his younger sister as recompense for losing the shoes. As it happens, the sister drops the pen, it is picked up by the little girl who has her shoes, who then returns the pen the next day. These very young children have absorbed a very strenuous honor system and follow it instinctively.
The father obtains some old gardening equipment from a friend and decides to take his son "uptown" to see if he can make some extra money gardening on weekends. Thus begins an overpowering scene in which the father is riding his bicycle on a modern freeway, with his son perched on the handle bars, moving slowly among the fast moving "tribe of the Mercedes." He rides past gleaming glass towers toward the suburban neighborhood in which this tribe lives.
We of the West have been conditioned to expect from such a scene of economic contrast conflict and guilt, or at a minimum, some serious preaching about economic inequality. As you watch this powerful and beautifully done scene, you think - its coming - one of Baskin Robbins 31 flavors of Marxism is about to be served, and we experts will, of course, have to place it in its broader category of reform, conservative or orthodox varieties.
Yet our Western Marxist expectations are frustrated.
The first interaction of the Father with these suburbanites is culture shock.
The mutual trust of the village is entirely missing.
When he rings their doorbells and talks into their electronic gate microphones, he doesn't know what to say and identifies himself as he would in the village. The glass tower people assume he is an intruder and threaten to call the police. He flees.
After a few disasterous rings, the 8 year old boy blurts out that they are gardeners looking for work. He apparently figured out that he must immediately state not his identity, but his function - what he does to benefit the potential customer. From that point on the introductions go more smoothly, especially when announced by the voice of an 8 year old.
Shortly, there is a several hour gardening job from a suburban boy and his grandfather. The Father earns more money than he earns all week at the factory. On one level, the movie nearly resembles an instruction video for poor Arabs on interactions with their newly affluent glass tower brethren.
Upward mobility is a hallmark and a sine qua non of cohesive societies. This movie powerfully celebrates it, reinforcing the sense of mutual obligation between the poor to reach out and to the wealthy to employ when they do reach out.
Any resolution of potential economic inequality that does not result in Marxist alienation and conflict makes a nationalist statement, for it shows a people capable of retaining their ethnic cohesion as they adapt to economic change. It is a message of rebirth and continuity.
In this movie, genetic self-similarity triumphs over economic difference, as indeed it must in any society which hopes to survive over many generations.
This movie is art powerfully in the service of nation building - a step on the road to creating social cohesion in Arab societies as prosperity arrives and people move out of traditional tribal villages and interact with well-to-do neighbors. Rather than stir up conflict between economic classes, it shows the poor how to overcome poverty and achieve upward mobility without losing or sacrificing their traditional culture.
The movie has many brilliant flourishes. The eight year-old boy enters a national 4k distance race in hopes of winning 3rd place and the third prize pair of sneakers. The first prize is a fancy vacation at an expensive resort. He has no comprehension of what a vacation is or what this might be worth. In a four way photo-finish he is forced to win the race rather than coming in third, and is quite dejected.
The penultimate scene shows the father buying a pair of shoes for the daughter and sneakers for the boy and stuffing them into his bike basket, a touching little reminder of his successful role as provider.
It is a beautiful and poigniant work.
Of course, this movie will go a long way toward generating sympathy toward Arabs in the eyes of Westerners who see it. One would like to think that a few American voters might be less likely to support our alien government that starves them with economic boycotts and bombs them from safe altitudes. However, I doubt very much if that was the original purpose of the movie.
On one level, when you see a movie like this you cannot but feel joy that at least one race on this earth is free from the grip of Hollywood.
But at the same time you begin to see what would be possible if we were free in America to harness the power of culture and the media to improve our own civilization, and preserve our own race.
There is also a profound sense of loss as we see others using the medium of film to take charge of their own evolutionary destiny and direct it in positive ways, as Hollywood and our government use that medium to tear down and destroy.
Rent it, watch it, and let me hear your views.
And now from an e-mail correspondent arrives the following:
I finally got around to watching Children of Heaven with my family.
It was as good as you said.
My five-year-old was SOBBING as the little boy explained to his sister that he'd lost her shoes. She wants to watch it again. I bought the film, so I'm sure it will become one of her favourites.
A couple of comments.
First, you mention in your review the possibility that this film was about Arabs. This Farsi-language film clearly took place in Iran. It was about the Iranian nation, not about any other.
The Iranians are not a semitic people like the Arabs, but are rather an Indo-European tribe - our distant cousins. The Iranians were conquered by the Arabs and converted to Islam, so you see some of the darker features that you see among the Arabs in some of them. But the essential Aryan nature of their culture tells true.
Note that the Iranians are allied with the Indo-European Russians and Armenians against the non-Indo-European Turks, Azeris, Georgians, and Arabs (big war with the Iraqi Arabs). This is more than just historical accident - it is rather the echo of an ancient kinship.
A couple of other points.
Recall that the father was crying before he served tea at the mosque. I believe the father was engaged in ritual weeping over the Shi'ite saint Ali, and I think this was an important moment in the film. I am no expert in things Islamic, but this is how I understand the history.
Ali was the Prophet Mohammed's kinsman and son-in-law (having married Mohammed's favourite daughter, Fatima). A power struggle followed Mohammed's death circa 632, and one faction (now called the Shi'ites) believed that Ali should be Mohammed's successor, whereas the other side (now called the Sunni's) backed another candidate. Ali lost this struggle, and was killed (I think even tortured) by the other side. Shi'ite Muslims solemnly commemorate Ali's death every year, which involves ritual weeping and other practices.
As a result of Ali's death Islam lost its tribal roots, and became a cosmopolitan movement. The political center of the Islamic movement went, upon Ali's death, from tribal Mecca to cosmopolitain Damascus in Syria. Interestingly, the Shi'ites believe that Ali was the carrier of an oral tradition received directly from Mohammed necessary for the proper interpretation of the Koran, and that this oral tradition was lost forever with Ali's death.
Now, the film's little protaganist's name was Ali, and surely that was no accident. I think that some central point was being made that Iranian Shi'ites would understand. Were I to venture a guess, I'd say it is that religion cannot be separated from the tribe; that it is really of the tribe, by the tribe, and for the tribe.
As you point out, little Ali knew many important things that he'd not been taught in school, or even in the mosque. There is a tribal tradition that forms the context for all else, and without which no abstract moral system - no matter how intricate - could make sense. Thus, the film seems to be saying that no true religion can be cosmopolitan - at least that it cannot be completely cut off from its roots in human tradition. This bolsters the nationalist message you rightly discern in the film.
It also struck me how genuine the father's weeping was. He truly mourned that ancient castastrophe involving the Islamic Saint Ali. Yet, somehow by weeping for Saint Ali he was somehow ACTUALLY weeping over the present pain of his own son Ali, although he didn't know it. It was almost as if by mourning the death of Mohammed's cousin and son-in-law, he was vicariously repenting his own inadvertent failings as a father.
The scene in the rich section of town made a powerful point about the alienation and atomization the de-tribalized elite experience. The wealthy were so very isolated behind their steel gates - at war with even their closest neighbors. This was of course in complete contrast to the tribalist collective of the slum where all watched out for all.
The little rich boy was heartbreakingly lonely. I'm convinced that when he spoke with Ali via the intercom that he saw a rare opportunity to actually play with another kid, and so he woke his grandfather to beg him to hire Ali's father - just so he could spend a few blessed hours in the company of another child. Ali was equal to the task, too. Ali showed no resentment despite all the material luxury of the rich child's surroundings. Ali instinctively just displayed the love he'd have for a younger brother. The little rich boy had fallen asleep in Ali's arms, and as he left Ali gave him a teddy bear. It was a real reminder to Iran's well-to-do not to forget who their brothers are. Beautiful.
I've experienced places like Ali's neighborhood, although never one that poor. It is wonderful in many ways. How I wish my nation had that. How I wish we were a nation. No wonder Iran hates us. We really are trying to destroy their tradition, and with it their tribe. It makes me feel ashamed - because I truly wish them nothing but the very best.
I join you in wishing that my own daughters could proclaim themselves the flower of the American nation without a hint of Sienfeldesque irony.
Keep those film reviews coming in!
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