A pot of gold would be the solution for Ali (Rouhollah Zamani) and his friends, who live as street children in Tehran and rent themselves out to dodgy clients. The boys are always in a hurry, always under pressure and often in a panic when they steal car tires and have to flee from the police. They work in workshops, are exploited and pushed around.
There is no other way, the fathers are away, in prison, drug addicts or dead. Ali’s mother is in the hospital, seriously injured after her house burned down. Ali would like to take her home – to a house that no longer exists.
Further, only further, the camera rushes with him through everyday life. She almost never allows herself to look up at the Tehran sky, at the teeming swarms of pigeons. And now Ali is supposed to find this alleged treasure with the others, to which buried underground passages lead.
The entrance is in the basement of a school. So they enroll in school, hoping for an end to their drudgery, so they don’t have to run for their lives day after day.
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Iranian director Majid Majidi, born in 1959, often tells stories of children and young people living in poverty in his films. In “Children of Heaven”, two siblings share a single pair of shoes; “The Colors of Heaven” revolves around a blind boy; in “Rain”, an Afghan girl disguises herself as a boy so she can work.
The teachers also work, and often in vain
Education also seems to be the way out in “Sun Children”, which is also known from Abbas Kiaorastami’s Iranian masterpieces. As Ali, Mamad, Reza and Albanian migrant child Abofazl use every free minute they have to sneak into the school basement to dig a tunnel, they increasingly wonder what is the greatest treasure in the end – the supposed gold or the fruits of learning.
One of the guys is good at geometry because it turns out he used to work for a tiler. And the other, as a football talent, receives the offer to train at a renowned club. Why dig deeper?
But it’s not that easy. “Sun Children” is not just about child labor, but about the Sisyphean plight of children and adults. Ali works in the basement and his teacher (Javad Ezzari) in class. No matter how committed he and his colleagues are, the Sun School for street children – such NGO-run institutions actually exist in Tehran – are in constant danger. The police intervened, the staff migrated, there was no money and there were no sponsors. At one point, the school bell stopped working.
Despite this, the teacher does not stop fighting for the hearts and minds of the children, seeking to understand with them. For example, asking Ali to explain the best head shots. One day he will need it too.
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It is amazing that director Majidi was even able to make his drama about social grievances under the censorship conditions of the mullahs’ regime. A number of children were thrown onto the streets, including Abofazl and her sister Shamila, who plays Zahra illegally selling sponges on the subway in the film. As an Afghan, she too is threatened with deportation, she too wants to get ahead, studies hard for school.
It’s even more amazing how Majidi manages to give his heroes not just thriller and adventure film elements (the nerve-wracking digging through the tunnel) but also poetic moments, despite all the hardships. “Sun Children” defends hope, joie de vivre and humor against the primacy of realism. Ali, like his teacher, finds himself in the next circle of hell – no treasure could save them. But you are afraid with them until the last moment.
Useless effort, betrayed and lost generation? Even the darkest disappointment cannot detract from the brief bliss of a bath in the city fountain.