By Samaneh Aboutalebi

Iranian children’s cinema, simple but not easy to portrait

April 13, 2021 - 18:39

It is deceptively simple to make a film about children, but it is one of the most popular subjects for directors.

Cuteness and affection have always been an integral part of the world of children. This awe-inspiring quality catches the audience’s attention and could be a key factor in the success of a film.

Centering on children’s vulnerability could raise the level of empathy and sympathy of people who tend to be more alarmed when a child is involved in a particular situation.

Some Iranian filmmakers have exploited this quality to the fullest, leading to their worldwide success.

However, most of these Iranian films by popular filmmakers, target children and are made about them and with them, but they are not necessarily made for them.

Many awards, accolades, and global acceptance have been won by these films during national and international events and they have been well received worldwide.

The following is a list of the top Iranian films about children, a film lover needs to watch, whether a child or an adult.

 “Bashu, the Little Stranger” (Bahram Beizai, 1989)

“Bashu” as an anti-war masterpiece has a simple story. It depicts the story of Bashu, a southern Iranian boy who, after losing his family during the Iran-Iraq war, runs away in search of refuge and is taken in by Naii, a woman living with her two young children in a village in the northern part of the country.

Despite their linguistic, ethnic, and racial differences, neighbors’ gossip, and the economic challenge of feeding a new family member, Naii accepts Bashu and prepares to convince her disabled husband when he arrives home from a work-related trip.

The touching acclaimed drama, however, carries subtle undertones about human emotions like love, acceptance, loneliness, and unfamiliarity.

In 1999, “Bashu, the Little Stranger” was voted the best Iranian movie of all time by a poll of 150 movie experts.

 “Children of Heaven” (Majid Majidi, 1998)

“Children of Heaven” is about the hard life of a nine-year-old boy but it is free of cynicism without becoming idealistic.

The charming movie tries to draw the audience into the warm and hopeful world it creates.

The film is about a young boy, Ali, who accidentally lets her sister’s pink shoes get thrown away by a bin collector.

Worried to tell their parents about such a significant loss for a poor family, they conspire to share Ali’s shoes. Zahra will wear them in the morning, when she goes to school, and give them to Ali in the afternoon when his classes begin. There’s not quite enough time, however, and although Ali races across the city every day to meet his sister, he’s continually late, so he tries a new way to win a new pair of shoes.

Majidi’s classic family film received a nomination for the best foreign-language film in 1999, becoming the first Iranian film ever nominated for an Oscar.

“The Color of Paradise” (Majid Majidi, 1999)

Following the success of his previous film “Children of Heaven”, Majidi decided to continue with the children-centered movies.

“The Color of Paradise” depicts a visually impaired boy, Mohammad, who returns home to spend his holiday. Mohammad doesn’t let his lack of sight hinder him. Indeed, his heightened remaining senses make him even more receptive to the world around him.

Young Mohammad’s optimism, however, is not shared by his widowed father, a bitter man who sees the boy’s condition as nothing but a liability, especially as it pertains to his desire to marry the village beauty.

Through some magnificent, colorful, vivid scenes, the director tries to depict how the world is experienced through touch and sound by the blind boy.

“Birth of a Butterfly” (Mojtaba Raei, 1997)

“Birth of a Butterfly” is a collection of three simple stories, which capture the audience’s emotions.

The stories are linked together by themes of intense emotions, faith, loss, isolation, spiritual transformation, and children.

The first story is about a stern father banishing his young son from the household to spare him the sight of his dying mother; the second follows the good deeds of a devout disabled boy left at home when his family visit a religious shrine; and the third shows the dilemma in which a teacher finds himself when local villagers are eager to believe he possesses spiritual powers.

Although the scenes of the pristine nature in Iranian rural areas could capture audiences’ eyes all over the world, the didactic lessons of the movie seem more obvious to Iranian audiences than to Western eyes.

“The Runner” (Amir Naderi, 1984)

New York-based Iranian filmmaker Amir Naderi’s acclaimed drama “The Runner” is perhaps the first feature film of Iranian New Wave cinema after the revolution, with an unconventional structure, that deliberately rejects all the traditional film principles, from narrative to basic cinematic.

The film is about Amiru, an impoverished boy who has lost his home during the war. He spends his days working odd jobs until he realizes that the only way he could fulfill his dreams is by enrolling in school.

In school, he has conflicts with other students.  He decides to participate in a competition to see who can say the whole alphabet in one breath to earn others respect.

“Where Is the Friend’s House?” (Abbas Kiarostami, 1987)

Last but not least is definitely late Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami’s “Where Is the Friend’s House?”.

The film is the first of three interrelated films in Abbas Kiarostami’s “Koker trilogy”, named after the northern Iranian village where the films are set, which is followed by “Life and Nothing More” and “Under the Olive Trees”.

“Where Is the Friend’s House?” draws its title from a mystical poem by Iranian poet and painter Sohrab Sephehri (1928–1980), and echoes the equivocal journey undertaken in the poem.

The film is about eight-year-old Ahmad, who mistakenly takes his friend Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh’s notebook home after school one day. To save his friend from the overly strict teacher’s harsh punishment, he starts a journey to return the notebook, zigzagging through landscapes, maze-like alleyways, and a host of unhelpful people along the way.

The film was well-received at the time and it has stayed one of the most popular works by Kiarostami.

Photo: A scene from “The Runner” by Iranian director Amir Naderi


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