A young private accompanies a boy accused of theft cross-country to a reformatory in “The Child and the Soldier,” a touching character study that points an accusing finger at the rigidity of laws, the plight of the poor and adults’ cruel indifference toward children. Auds responsive to these oft-explored themes in Iranian cinema will find this simply told tale appealing, perhaps giving pic a shot to edge out of the festival world to specialized theatrical niches.
In a tale that echoes Gianni Amelio’s acclaimed “The Stolen Children,” pic illuminates the unconscious egoism of a young recruit who longs to go home for New Year’s. The only way he can leave his southern military base is by agreeing to deliver a petty thief of 14 to Tehran. (The boy’s crime was stealing a piece of bread.)
Handcuffed together, they traverse vast deserts by bus and then hitch a ride with a big-hearted truck driver. Latter sets the boy down in his dusty hometown, where his relatives view him as a monster who has brought shame to the family. Instead of proceeding to Tehran, the soldier insists on dragging him home for the holidays, with dire consequences.
Working with minutiae, like a gold necklace that changes hands seemingly against the will of the protags, debuting filmmaker Seyyed Reza Mir-Karimi and scripter Mohammad Rezai-Rad sympathetically portray a helpless, stoic youth caught in circumstances behind his control. A simple exchange of looks between him and hard-working shoeshine boys in the bazaar takes viewers deep inside this foreign universe. A few words from the lady in Tehran who rents him a bed sums up the exploitation to which the kids are subjected.
The influence of Italian neo-realism, which extends to many Iranian films of this kind, is clear in quotes from De Sica’s 1946 classic “Shoeshine.” Lensing is kept simple and essential, in keeping with the storytelling style. Of the two leads, the soldier remains practically anonymous, while the boy is particularly expressive.