Celebrated Iranian director Majid Majidi’s latest in a series of films exploring the fate of children on the margins is one of his most affecting yet. An Oliver Twist-like tale, Sun Children (Korshid) also owes a debt of gratitude to 1980s adventure movies in the vein of Richard Donner’s beloved The Goonies, but with a bittersweet turn.
The effervescently expressive Roohollah Zamani is a revelation in his first role as Ali, a young street kid who has been pressed into a life of petty crime by a local gangster. He rightly took home Best Young Actor at the 2020 Venice Film Festival. With his sick mother in psychiatric care, Ali, like the rest of his gang, flit the streets like mischievous sparrows. A cute flirtation with another youngster, played by real-life child labour survivor Shamila Shirzad, is an early ray of sun in a film that does not shy away from the harsh reality.
A madcap scheme to uncover buried treasure located somewhere beneath a school for under-privileged kids provides a possible escape from this hard-knock life. Unlike a Dickensian drama, it’s actually populated by teachers (including a brilliant Javad Ezati as vice-principal Rafie) who are desperately invested in their students’ futures while trying to keep the wolves from the door – both the overtly criminal element and the unforgiving landlords.
But even a promised way out can be a trap. If this were an ’80s American teen comedy, Ali’s underground burrowing in search of gold would be less claustrophobic and surely more successful. As it is, this cinematic ode to those who deserve better refuses happy ever after in favour of something closer to the truth. And yet, even in darkness, there is a sliver of hope.