Iranian cinema’s penchant for simply-told tales of children in nature is indulged in feature novice Mahmoud Shoolizadeh’s “Noora (The Kiss of Life).” A gentle story of youngsters communing with their environment and coming to grips with fate, this is a minor entry in a field exemplified by Majid Majidi’s “The Color of God.” Life on the fest circuit is pic’s most likely outlet, with possible niche runs in large cities.
Brother and sister Niaz and Noora (Mohammad Abbasi, Masoomeh Yousefi) live with their parents and grandmother in the woods of northern Iran, where life is bucolic but hard. Dad (Farhad Aeesh) ekes a living making coal from dead wood, and the rest of the family pitches in.
Niaz allows his little sister to accompany him to town so she can see the train, but in her excitement, she stands too close and gets hit, ending up paralyzed from the waist down. Niaz, covered in guilt, brings her back home, where their parents despair at finding the money to pay for doctors’ care. Imbibing his grandmother’s fatalistic religious devotion, Niaz is determined to find God on a mountaintop and ask Him to cure his sister.
Unfolding the narrative in a babes-in-the-woods fairytale style, Shoolizadeh makes comparisons between the simplicity of life in nature, with a reliance on self and God, to the encroaching soullessness of modern life. After timeless scenes of peasant simplicity, the first glimpse of a paved road is something of a shock. Nature’s supremacy is underscored by the juxtaposition of the father, who utilizes the dead wood in his environment without disrupting it, with offscreen foresters who chop down living trees.
Cast of nonpros gives a feeling of authenticity: The kids, especially, are remarkably natural, and shoulder the burden of the story without strain. In particular, Abbasi’s physical stamina during his Sisyphean task of repeatedly carting his sister up a muddy mountain in a wheelbarrow is most impressive.
Pic could benefit by dropping its repetitive last five minutes, but is always visually attractive. Helmer has extensive credits in Iranian TV.