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I’ll be honest, I’ve been putting off watching this film for a long time. All I knew was the plot summary—a brother and sister in present-day Iran are forced to share one pair of shoes when he accidentally loses hers—and based on that, I was afraid this movie would be preachy or depressing. Instead, it’s a charming family film that follows the everyday adventures that both siblings get into as a result of the shoe mishap. The sister, Zahra (Bahare Seddiqi), is self-conscious about wearing boys’ shoes until she finds that they give her an edge over the girls in dress shoes when her class at school has to practice long jumping. After school, she has to run to meet Ali (Amir Farrokh Hashemian) so he can put the shoes on and run to his own school. (He’s often late even when they both run the whole way.) Zahra eventually finds out who her shoes ended up with, and she has to decide what to do about it. Ali comes up with a plan to win a new pair of sneakers for Zahra by coming in third place in a boys’ long distance race.
Early in the film, Ali gets raked over the coals by his father for neglecting his ailing mother, and he spends the rest of the film finding ways to redeem himself. He makes good grades and wins a fancy pen at school, which he gives to Zahra. Then he helps his father come up with a sales pitch as they go door-to-door in the wealthy part of town, offering their services as gardeners. Finally he wins the race at the end of the movie, and instead of being excited, he feels terrible that he didn’t come in third and therefore win the sneakers for Zahra.
I love that both children have such strong personalities, especially Zahra. Near the beginning of the movie, Zahra and Ali argue about what to do about her lost shoes in fierce whispers while they’re supposed to be doing their homework (and while their parents bicker about something else), in a scene that’s both hilarious and completely believable. Zahra is ostensibly the victim of the story, but she never acts like one. Nor is she an object lesson in feminine virtue. She’s simply a scrappy, kindhearted child. She and Ali seem to genuinely like each other most of the time, their occasional moments of pettiness or frustration notwithstanding.
I spent a lot of time thinking about the title of this film and wondering where it came from. (I couldn’t find any information about how closely the English translation of the title approximates the original Persian.) Zahra and Ali hide Ali’s mistake from their parents and assume that it’s up to them to solve the problem. So in a way, they throw themselves on the mercy of a higher authority than their biological parents. Their situation forces them to think about grown-up problems, but they retain their innocence despite that. The film’s real strength is its clear-eyed, optimistic portrayal of childhood. It’s simple without being simplistic and optimistic without being naive.
– Ashley Wells watches too many movies and welcomes recommendations for more. Leave her one here or on Twitter: @ashleybwells. Spoiler alert: she has already seen Troll 2.