American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Each day during this special week we will be highlighting the filmmakers and actors that Roger championed throughout his career. A table of contents for all of our "Roger's Favorites" posts can be found here. Below is an entry on three films by writer/director Majid Majidi.
Majid Majidi is an Iranian filmmaker who started as an actor before making his debut behind the camera with 1992's "Babuk." With films like "Children of Heaven" and "Baran," he has become one of the most well-known Iranian directors. He recently wrote and directed "Muhammad: The Messenger of God," a three-hour epic about the religious prophet, which is the most expensive Iranian film to date. Iran also submitted the film for the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2015.
Roger only reviewed three films by Majidi, but his first review introduced a special connection of taste between the critic and the filmmaker—for all of the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movies Roger had to see, "Children of Heaven" was a four-star reprieve, reviewed on February 5, 1999. As Roger also stressed, this comedy/drama about impoverished Iranian kids and a pair of shoes also made for universal entertainment: "Children of Heaven'' is very nearly a perfect movie for children, and of course that means adults will like it, too. It lacks the cynicism and smart-mouth attitudes of so much American entertainment for kids and glows with a kind of good-hearted purity." He concluded his review with a striking sentiment, one as timeless as the story in Majidi's film: "In this film from Iran, I found a sweetness and innocence that shames the land of Mutant Turtles, Power Rangers and violent video games. Why do we teach our kids to see through things, before they even learn to see them?"
"Children of Heaven" so impressed Roger that he programmed it as a Free Kiddie Matinee at Ebertfest 2000, stating in the festival's introduction, "I believe kids who can read are old enough for subtitles; it's never too early to the best of world cinema." Roger later wrote of the experience: "I showed it at my 2000 Overlooked Film Festival at the free family matinee, telling the bigger kids it was all right to read the subtitles to the smaller ones—but there was not a sound, because the images held them spellbound."
Roger reviewed his second Majidi film on June 2, 2000, giving three-and-a-half stars to "The Color of Paradise." Another story about children, as told with a refreshing gentleness, Roger also admired how Majidi's religious movie "feels truly intended for God's glory," with Roger making the point that "[t]his film looks up, not sideways." Adoring its "delicacy and beauty," "The Color of Paradise" also returned Roger back to the "lesson" he took away from "Children of Heaven": "Any film not good enough for grownups is not good enough for children."
"Baran" was the last Majidi film Roger reviewed, as published on May 3, 2002 with a three-and-a-half-star rating. He said that the drama could "be a useful learning tool for those who have not traveled widely, who never see foreign films, who reduce whole nations to labels." A day before, Roger published a career-encompassing interview with the director whose work struck him as universal, in a piece fittingly titled "Iran Director Picks People Over Politics." Among many fascinating notes about Majidi's gentle filmmaking, he shared with Roger the inspiration for "Children of Heaven"—atoning for the lies he told his father, who never knew that his engineer son was in fact studying the arts in college instead.
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