Strand Releasing
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Majid Majidi
Writer: Nima Javidi, Majid Majidi
Cast: Roohollah Zamani, Ali Ghabeshi, Shamila Shirzad, Javad Ezati, Ali Nassiran
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/19/21
Opens: June 25, 2021

Iranian filmmakers frequently make use of children to evade the rigors of the censors. In fact one of the most refreshing pictures is an early one, Majid Majidi’s “Children of Heaven,” which evokes the director’s ability to cast non-professional actors to show children who are poor but help one another. Similarly in Majidi’s “Sun Children,” the focus is on a bunch of pre-pubescent lads, mostly male, who are dirt poor, who are exploited as child labor, and who live on the streets. There is one idealistic adult, Vice Principal Rafie (Javad Ezati), second in charge of a school for street kids, one that has to beg regularly for funding, and whose all-boys’ math classroom is presided over by another dedicated adult who gets the 12-year-olds to applaud when a student answers a math puzzle perfectly.

We wonder, though, how the Iranian film censors got to greenlight “Sun Children” (Khorshid in the original Farsi), when a country that brags that it has no homosexuals highlights the travesty of children who are used by adults. The opening scenes show a terrific chase as the authorities pursue youngsters who are busy stealing tires from a new Mercedes, at first hiding under the cars, then running for their lives under the direction of would-be leader Ali (Roohollah Zamani in his debut role).

The freckle-faced Ali, whose eyes may only occasionally reflect joy, spends time with a worried expression on his face, though proud of his leadership abilities with other street kids and his ability to run a 100-meter dash (I’m guessing) in under 12 seconds. The one female child in the movie, Zahra (Shamila Shirzad), who has quite a mouth when dressing down her brother Abolfazi (Abolfazi Shirzad as his real-life sister), is an Afghan arrested for selling trinkets in the subway, a citizen of an underdeveloped country to which she is regularly threatened with repatriation.

The anxiety-ridden Ali worries about his mom, now in a psychiatric institution, working to be able to free her from the hospital. His principal job, assigned to him by Hashem (Ali Nassirian), is find a treasure buried in an underground tunnel next door. Dig he must, his adventures with the mud and rocks and waterfalls and threatening boulders perhaps giving some in the theater audience an impression of what some Jewish children went through to escape the Holocaust. When he appears to find his goal, he bursts into tears, closing a movie that leaves the audience with a lasting impression of what it’s like to have nobody but some idealistic teachers to protect them.

Scenes captured by D.P. Hooman Behmanesh photographing on the streets of Tehran include what looks like an ancient train, and one fancy departments store, escalators and all. Rooftops exist to be jumped onto by children escaping from the authorities.

“Sun Children” won best film, screenplay and production design at the Fajr Film Festival, held every February and April in Iran since 1982. In Farsi with English subtitles.

99 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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