Majid Majidi, director of “Sun Children,” is probably one of the best Iranian filmmakers today. He is also known in Montreal: three of his films, “Children of Heaven” (1997), “The Colour of Paradise” (1999), and “Baran” (2001), won prizes at the Montreal World Film Festival. This time, Majidi has brought us a poetic and sensitive look at the lives of a group of children living in poverty in Tehran, forced to work by the circumstances. However, at times, they are also involved in petty crime.
One of the boys is Ali (Roohollah Zamani), a 12-year-old who was almost caught when accompanied by his friends he tried to steal a tire from a car in a parking lot. He had also stolen a pigeon belonging to Hashem (Ali Nassirian), a crime boss in the neighbourhood. It is Hashem who convinces Ali that underneath the local school, there is a hidden treasure. He would be ready to help Ali care for his sick mother if he works for him, excavating and looking for the treasure.
To undertake his mission, with a mix of adventure and the desire for riches, Ali will have to enrol in the local school, the Sun School, a privately-run institution specializing in educating street kids. He and his friends, especially the Afghan boy Abolfazl (Abolfazl Shirzad), start working in the school basement. Still, the task would be far more difficult than expected.
During that time, other developments unleash: the school suffers financial troubles. Things are not going well for Ali in the school either. However, he gets sympathetic support from the vice-principal Rafie (Javad Ezati). Ali also feels attracted to Zahra (Shamila Shirzad), who illegally peddles merchandise in the subway and who also is Abolfazl’s sister.
Despite Ali’s efforts, progress in searching for the treasure is slow and sometimes goes in the wrong direction; however, Hashem keeps thinking that the boy would eventually find the precious treasure.
“Sun Children” is a powerful indictment of child labour and exploitation. Still, the message is conveyed subtly, combining the hardship of work with a somehow hopeful attitude and motivation on the part of the kids. It is a movie that I recommend to admirers of this great Iranian filmmaker. Perhaps for others, it might be an interesting discovery of Iranian cinema.
In Farsi (Persian) with English subtitles. Released on June 25. Duration: 138 min.