QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM VENICE
This bizarre Iranian drama manages to blend pigeon-trading criminals, gun-toting children Afghani refugees, a defaulting school and a very elusive treasure-hunt in less than 100 minutes. The outcome is a very confusing story, with more holes than Swiss cheese. Yet it’s not without a few savoury parts.
Ali (Rouhollah Zamani), Mamad (Seyed Mohamma), Abolfazl (Abolfazl) Shirzad and Reza (Mani Ghafouri) are about 10-year-old and spend most of their time together. The juvenile foursome engage in petty criminal activities (such as robbing car parts) in order to raise money for their survival. They also attend the titular Sun School, an educational institution for homeless children, where they mingle and learn alongside with other children around their age. They are under the supervision of three doting and yet very clumsy principals and janitors. The School is independently funded and struggling to survive.
The bullish and yet caring Ali is the movie protagonist. He financially caters for his ailing (and suicidal) mother who lives in some sort of mental health institution. And he is in search of a treasure buried under the school building. Mamad is an Afghani refugee and he has a sister called Zahra (Shamila Shirzad), who survives by selling knick-knacks on Tehran’s busy metro system. Mamad and Zahra are very concerned about deportation.
The Sun School is facing eviction from the large mansion were lectures are held. The principals ask the landlord for more time and patience, but the greedy man fails to heed to their request, instead arguing that he too is facing financial difficulties. Such refusal triggers a riot, as pupils – duly encouraged by the principals – promptly jump the walls and gates and occupy the building. Their action pays off, at least temporarily, with the school remaining open.
The treasure hunt, however, is the movie’s main pillar: a MacGyver-possessed Ali ferociously digs his way through an infinity of underground tunnels and structures. At one point, an adult assists him. Then the adult mysteriously disappears. At times, the film is structured as a kid’s adventure movie, yet the elements of drugs and violence suggest that it is not aimed at children at all. Sun Children (aka The Sun) has a very hybrid identity that I could not quite work out who its target audience might be. It feels very misplaced at the heart of a leading European film festival, often associated with more artistically audacious movies (for adults).
Another problem is that the many narrative streams don’t tie together, and the ending is particularly strange. There is no closure, no redemption, just a banal attempt at symbolic lyricism in the very last sequence. It feels puerile. On the positive side, the child actors are very good. They convincingly convey both joy and despair. Regrettably their personal stories are never investigated in much detail, and their predicament becomes diluted in some premise of adventure. The young child actor Zamani is the biggest movie highlight. He is brimming with energy, his large eyes radiant with emotion.
Sun Children has just premiered in Competition at the 77th Venice International Film Festival, which DMovies is covering in loco exclusively for you. The movie is dedicated to the 152 million children worldwide who are subject to child labour. A very noble goal. Regrettably, the calibre of the final product is not on a par with the noble intention.