Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Children of Heaven (Bacheha-Ye aseman)

1997, color feature, 88 minutes
Directed and written by Majid Majidi
Producer, Amir Esfandiari, Mohammad Esfandiari
In Persian with subtitles
All ages

This Iranian film centers on a brother and sister forced to share a pair of sneakers when the boy Ali (played beautifully by Amir Farrokh Hashemian) loses his sister Zahra's newly-repaired shoes. A meditation on Iranian daily life (including scenes at a mosque), scarcity vs. plenty, and family bonds, Children of Heaven is also a suspenseful yarn. Its PG rating, as near as I can figure, has to do with Ali's father yelling "shit!" when his bicycle breaks stop working and he and his son are about to crash. Also, he is verbally harsh with his family, particularly at the beginning, but it quickly becomes clear that he is honest and loving, if overworked. Engaging, stunning to look at, a glimpse at Iranian culture that has a realistic feel. I'm giving this the "girl power" label because Ali's sister Zahra, played by Bahare Seddiqi, washes the dishes, tends the baby, cleans the house, and gets her homework done—one could imagine such a girl growing up to be a world leader.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed

Shola Lynch, 2004
76 minutes, documentary
Best for ages 5+

I was 11 in 1972 when Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm became the first woman and first black person to run as successfully as she did for president of the United States, and my son is 11 now. Watching this documentary with him and my 9-year-old daughter really put this year's campaign in perspective. The footage here demonstrates some of the long road that has led to Barack Obama's candidacy, reveals by contrast the shallowness of the media analysis of race and gender in the current campaign, and offers a refreshing, even bracing introduction to a candidate who was not afraid to speak out and take strong, clear, progressive positions. "I want to be remembered as a woman who dared to be a catalyst for change," said Chisholm. A great introduction to a figure your children should know about (even if they don't understand all of it), a primer in issues that come up in every campaign, and some good context related to the movements for the rights of women and African-Americans.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Cyrano de Bergerac

Jean-Paul Rappeneau, 1990
137 minutes, color feature, subtitles
Ages 8 & up (battle scene at end with explosions and some blood)

With musketeers, witty word play, a confederacy of poets, and a story about who and why we love, the story of Cyrano de Bergerac is great for kids. This production features a spirited, soulful performance by Gerard Depardieu. Another great actor, José Ferrer, made a version in 1950 and there are numerous other versions. My 8-year-old had a little trouble keeping up with the subtitles, but there is plenty of action to keep a non-reading viewer interested, and those who don't follow the subtitles can still listen to the music of the rhyming couplets in French. Girl power alert: Roxanne, love object to two men, has little to do but in Act IV does dress up as a man during a fight with Spanish soldiers and sneak food to the French cadets.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037

Ben Niles, 2007
81 minutes, color documentary shot on tape
All ages

Anyone old enough to sit through a documentary, and that could be anybody, should be rapt at this account of the process and people behind a Steinway grand piano, from the multinational craftspeople who painstakingly ply their trade in a Queens factory, passing their art down from one generation to the other through hands-on training, to the musicians who appreciate in their own way the personality differences between one piano and another. "It was nice to see the Steinway being made—spray-painted and having its strings straightened," said a 10-year-old viewer.