Old-fashioned ways are a block to an Iranian girl’s future in “Hayat,” a pleasing, if light, children’s drama. In keeping with kidpics everywhere, some laughs keep the film running smoothly, but most of the comedy relief is lost in translation. One of two features Gholamreza Ramezani helmed last year — his hour-long “The Play” (“Bazi”) is also in Berlin’s Kinderfilmfest – this example of more commercial Iranian cinema looks likely not to stray far from the fest circuit, except into upscale tyke TV.
On the morning of a big exam, which could see savvy farmgirl Hayat (Ghazaleh Parsafar) landing a lucrative scholarship, her father is rushed to hospital. From the back of the truck that takes dad to medical assistance, Hayat’s mother instructs her daughter to do the chores and care for her younger siblings.
With a little prodding, her brother Akbar (Mehrdad Hassani) can be taken care of, but the needs of baby sister Nabat (Mohammad Sa’eed Babakhanlo) are more problematic. Frantically, but unsuccessfully, searching out relatives to help (including a parched aunt who drinks from the baby’s bottle), Hayat is in danger of missing her exam entirely.
Using each of her dilemmas as a way of studying (volume of cow’s milk to calculate mathematics, physics to break open a lock, etc.) Hayat wins over aud support even though she makes little progress toward her goal. Having preceded her to school, Akbar develops his own plan to skip class and aid Hayat in her plight.
While being poor and alone is Hayat’s biggest obstacle, the most obvious symbol of Iranian culture to impede Hayat is an elderly neighbor. Deaf and unwilling to listen into the bargain, the woman keeps Hayat hostage with an excruciatingly long rant about the value of the old ways.
Child actors who dominate proceedings are effective (though baby Babakhanlo is clearly distracted by off-camera activity). Direction is clear and uncomplicated, and other tech credits are pro. However, due to inconclusive subtitling, several reels elapse before the exact nature of the father’s condition is clear.