Sun Children (also known as The Sun, but the original title is Khoršid), is a 2020 Iranian film directed by Majid Majidi. It premiered at the 77th Venice Film Festival, as well as being nominated by Iran to compete as best film at the latest Oscars. The latter fact is curious, given how the Iranian society is portrayed in the film, but we’ll get there…
But let’s talk about the movie. Four pre-adolescent children work and carry out petty thefts on behalf of old Hashem (Ali Nassirian). One day, he convinces Ali (Roohollah Zamani), the leader of the group, to make them all enroll at a specific school because an underground tunnel from there could lead to a treasure buried in the nearby cemetery. Once in the school (which suffers from an endemic lack of funds), Deputy Director Rafie (Javad Ezati) begins to act as a sort of father for the four kids (little Afghan Abolfazl, Abolfazl Shirzad, seems to be the only one with an actual family).
The sensitivity of an Iranian director is certainly different from that of an Italian or American director. Given the premises, in a Western movie you might expect a happy ending with the treasure used to save the school and a bright future for the four children, perhaps even with Hashem rotting in prison. Well, you would be very wrong!
In Iran, things are not that simple, and even for four young boys who are smart and accustomed to the harshness of life, things are complicated. Due to drug addicted fathers and problems related to emigration, neither the intelligent Abolfazl nor the silent Mamad (Mohammad Mahdi Mousavifar) are able to stay much with Ali, who throws himself body and soul into the search for treasure, convinced that it will open the door to a better life, away from child labor and crime.
But I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot. Sun Children is a slowly unfolding tragedy that creates tension with well-constructed scenes working well from start to finish, except two or three plot issues. Among the latter, some characters get abandoned halfway and in some cases the story feels a bit forced (I doubt that a teacher would headbutt a police commissioner expecting no consequences whatsoever).
But, despite some shortcomings, the film, as I said, holds up especially thanks to the skills of the exceptional Zamani, highly credible in the role of the seasoned street kid, but also those of the rest of the young cast. Majidi’s dynamic shots with a lot of hand-held camera sometimes assume a documentary tone which, together with the perfect costumes and sets, make us feel real emotions for the young protagonists (for instance, it’s liberating to see the freed pigeons while Ali also runs free towards the end of the movie).
It must be said that while the film works as a story, albeit a dramatic one, it’s much less effective in denouncing child labor as it seems to be the intention of the director who dedicated the movie to the more than 150 million minors in the world forced to work. In fact, we see little to nothing about the world of child labor, almost as if the dedication was conceived a posteriori rather than as the real motivation for the film. More generally, the film certainly takes a critical stance towards some issues such as child labor, racism, and police violence, but it never goes deep, remaining on the surface so much so that it can even be promoted by the Iranian authorities as an Oscar candidate. Even so, Majidi managed to construct characters who will accompany us well beyond the one hour and forty minutes of the film, and we’ll have to imagine the fate of many of them since the director left many of its doors open. Ciao!
PS: I’m sure that a specific scene was staged as a tribute to The Usual Suspects (1995): the one in which the four kids are leaning against the wall waiting to be received by the principal!