Majid Majidi, Iran, 2020
It was fitting watching this in the cinema’s tiny screen in the basement, clambering down the stairs to the depths of the building. It’s what the kids in this film do, though they go on to build a tunnel in search of treasure and thankfully I didn’t have to do that.
It sounds a bit like an adventure romp, doesn’t it, but this is not the Iranian Goonies. With parents either dead or addicted to drugs, these 12-year-old boys are wild street kids. They scrape together a living however they can (like stealing tyres from Mercedes parked in shopping centres).
An elder criminal boss encourages our protagonist Ali to enrol in the local school for disadvantaged boys (the Sun School of the film’s title). Not for educational uplift to escape from his dreadful situation, you understand, but to retrieve ‘treasure’ buried under the next-door cemetery by building a tunnel.
So led by dominant yet lost Ali, who wears a permanent expression of hurt, a little band of four start to secretly dig in the school’s basement. Their days are filled with avoiding detection (“we were looking for our lost ball” 🙂 ), lessons in crammed classrooms, fighting in the playground… as well as gaining some respect from an interested teacher, and help with the tunnel from the school caretaker.
Gradually the team slims down – with the future holding some hope for the lad who shows promise at football and another who’s good at maths – and the criminal gangs he knows disappear. Even the school gets closed down through lack of funds. Only Ali is left. He has pinned all his hopes on the ‘treasure’, and risks his life to find it.
In the end he does (yay)! But it’s not what he hoped for (sob). All his hard work and determination comes to nothing. There is no hope, no brighter future for him. Nothing changes, except now he’s more alone than ever.
It is a rather bleak message to end the film with. But realistic, I’m sure. Throughout, it’s touching, exciting, engaging and heartbreaking, full of people, activity, the energy of these poor kids, and the crowded busyness of Iranian life. Yet living at the margins of society is feral and tough. An eye-opening film, indeed.